Scream VI (2023)
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Screenwriters: James Vanderbilt, Guy Busick
Starring: Melissa Barrera, Courteney Cox, Jenna Ortega, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Hayden Panettiere, Roger L. Jackson
Coming just over a year after the previous instalment in the Scream franchise, and the first without Neve Campbell (who refused to return over a perceived lack of a big-enough paycheck for her role in the series’ history), Scream VI becomes, as many have joked, ‘Ghostface Takes Manhattan’. And so it turns out to be, with Sam, Tara, Mindy and Chad (the ‘Core Four’, as they coin themselves) moving to New York to escape the past of Woodsboro. However, as always, the past follows them, and they have to battle the dual threat of a new series of Ghostface killings as well as conspiracy theories claiming that Sam framed the killers from the previous film and that she really is the mastermind behind it all.
It’s big and it’s bold, with big kills and big sequences. Extended chases, tense escapes, and even Ghostface wielding a gun for the first time in costume. There are moments where you’re tensed up in your seat, genuinely not knowing whether characters will survive or not. It’s full on, it’s violent, it’s manic and in-your-face. Ghostface is still a goofball as soon as they’re spotted by a single living creature, it’s still got its wisecracks, it’s still got its new rules (or, by this point, its reinterpretation of those that have already been given). For so much of its runtime, it’s gloriously Scream.
This big plus is complemented by directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett making sure there’s enough time to focus on the two leads, Tara and Sam (played by Jenna Ortega and Melissa Barrera), the new torch-bearers of the franchise. Delving into their relationship, the effects of Woodsboro on their lives, and the nature of protectiveness of siblings, it is the two of them that truly carry the film. Without the two actresses bringing so much chemistry to the screen, Scream VI would be in the Manhattan gutters in seconds.
Oh, and Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) coming back after getting offed in Scream 4 (apparently she survived) is the best thing about the film.
And yet, despite all this promise, there are issues. Scream VI is great as a mindless slasher whodunnit, if you switch your brain off. But as soon as you inspect it even a little, you realise the glaring flaws. Because, despite the trailers promising “I’m something… different,” the film suffers from exactly the same issues the previous instalment suffered from; far too much reliance upon the history of the franchise, and indeed being absolutely nothing different at all. Yes, the whole franchise is about being derivative and milking its original for all it’s worth, but this film highlights that the cracks are beginning to show, and the joke is getting old.
Not only does Scream VI get incredibly annoying, not only do you have to make up fan theories about Sidney not telling anyone about her relationship to the killer in Scream 3 to excuse why there’s so much focus on Billy and not the actual mastermind behind the original trilogy, not only does it replicate sets and moments in such a way that it gets old very fast; it also helps you work out the identities of the killers. Watch all the films in a marathon beforehand, and I guarantee you’ll catch on. Its internal storylines are becoming increasingly derivative, intelligence wearing thin.
Ironically, the best thing for the franchise moving forward would be to do what was dismissed in the 2022 film as that which fans don’t want: have a completely new film with a new set of characters. Do a The Last Jedi, burn down your ties, and move on in a completely new direction.
Scream VI is, for all its issues, one hell of a cinematic horror ride. It’s a big budget slasher done well, and for fun. But as soon as you go more than skin deep, you find that, although it says ‘New York, New Rules’ on all the posters, there’s nothing new about it.