Scream VI is upon us and it feels like 1997 all over again. Similar to the release of Scream 2, Scream VI rushed into production subsequently after its predecessor. More unfortunately, they share a commonality in the leaking of its killer twist before the movie’s release. For Scream 2, it was an opportunity to get creative and implement last-minute script changes. In the case of this latest sequel, it’s another piece of bad publicity. In addition to the controversial reception of Scream (2022), which ironically tackles fanbases, Scream VI has faced harsh criticism due to Neve Campbell refusing to return over a reported pay dispute. Though this is all likely to be put aside once audiences get their hands on the film. A major high point in the series, Scream VI marks a return to the subversive nature of the franchise in a wickedly entertaining pivot to the Big Apple.
After surviving a massacre perpetrated by a pair of crazed fans of the Stab! franchise, Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) leave Woodsboro for New York City, the latter going to college and the former looking for a fresh start. Along with fellow survivors Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding), they try to move on with their lives. Legacy has other plans. A new, more brutal Ghostface killer appears on the scene, holding a grudge against Samantha while harboring an obsession with Ghostfaces’ past. Sam, Tara, Mindy, and Chad – dubbing themselves the “Core Four”- face their vicious adversary, but they’re not alone. Reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) sees another opportunity for hard-hitting journalism and Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) uses her newfound status as an FBI agent to help chase down Ghostface in one wild yarn in the Scream series.
The immediate positive of Scream VI is a cast that seems far more comfortable this time around. Newcomers like Tony Revlori (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Samara Weaving (Ready or Not), Jack Champion (Avatar: The Way of Water), Devyn Nekoda (Sneakerella), and Liana Liberato (The Beach House) make a strong impression as mysterious New Yorkers. Meanwhile, Dermot Mulroney as NYPD Detective Bailey proves himself once again a sturdy supporting genre performer. When it comes to the returning faces, although she has more screen time than purpose in the plot, Jenna Ortega’s star quality still shines through. Roger L. Jackson as the voice of Ghostface is always welcomed in all his sinister glory. The Meeks-Martin siblings still steal every scene out from under them, of course, but it’s really Melissa Barrera who gets the opportunity to truly shine on her own this time around.
As both a survivor of Ghostface and the daughter of the first Ghostface killer Sam Loomis, Sam is a difficult character to portray; filled with all sorts of conflicting emotions and a rage that threatens to spring to the surface. No one can replace Sidney Prescott, and Neve Campbell’s absence will forever be regrettable. However, Barrera makes for a fascinating protagonist who brings a unique and riveting flavor that makes Campbell’s current departure less gutting. In a cast including Courteney Cox and Hayden Panettiere absolutely owning their beloved roles, the fact that Barrera is the standout says a lot about where this sequel’s head is at.
That is to say that Scream VI has no intention of repeating the past. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, collectively known as Radio Silence, along with writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, make that clear in the opening sequence. Scream VI starts off as expected. There’s a woman in distress, a call from Ghostface, “What’s your favorite scary movie?”, all the works – until it takes a hard shift. A series of propulsive twists and turns keep on coming, not letting up before the opening titles roll. It’s enough to fill a feature film’s worth. What it accomplishes is expanding the scope of the story in a way that doesn’t jump the shark. In fact, the idea of stories playing out far past their prime is baked into the screenplay, and continues with great momentum deep into Scream VI.
“We’re not in a sequel, we’re in a franchise,” someone roughly says halfway through. And that’s a pretty apt encapsulation of what Scream VI is trying to do: critique the obsession with legacy franchises that keep growing out of control, leaving characters like the Core Four trapped in a cycle. Obviously, this opens up the door to some meta-humor and terrifyingly fun antics, but it goes beyond that. No more of the “having our cake and eating it too” kind of horror movie critique from Scream (2022).
Scream VI interrogates the obsession with riding out the same stories and the mythologizing behind them, drawing a strong parallel to true crime. The plot, smartly, still never loses sight of its protagonists – making sure every critique that Radio Silence are trying to make directly weaves in with the character’s stories. All manner of shocking reveals are sure to happen, but it feels extremely purposeful as if this entry was given extra care. If you’re going to critique overwrought franchises, might as well dive headfirst.
Furthermore, Scream VI is just entertaining as all hell. The New York City setting brings a thrilling change of pace. This sequel replaces the quiet menace of suburbia with a sprawling metropolis, whose crowds work as camouflage for those with ill intent. The killer could legitimately be anywhere, and there is no shortage of dark alleys for Ghostface to pop out of. Speaking of Ghostface, here we have a near-total upgrade of the iconic villain. They’re unusually skilled, brutal, and precise – laying absolute waste to whoever’s in their path. It’s a fascinating subversion of the goofy lug we’ve come to expect from the character, without falling into the cliche interpretation of a slasher this series has fought hard to avoid.
This new Ghostface and the sandbox set for him lead to some of the most purely fraught sequences the series has ever seen. A standoff in a convenience store is a game changer, bringing Ghostface out in the open and giving them a gun. Gory kills abound, much more so than usual, as the ante is continually getting upped. Each horror sequence plays better than the last – from a battle between Gale and Ghostface to a window-to-window escape via a ladder. However, nothing tops the finale; a wacky, operatic romp in the new Ghostface’s lair that goes so over-the-top it feels like a breath of fresh air after the previous film’s insistence on playing it safe.
In every way, Scream VI is an improvement from its limp predecessor. Using the franchise’s prolonged nature to its advantage, rather than treating it as an elephant in the room, Radio Silence finally injects real honest-to-god new blood into Scream. Trying to recreate Wes Craven and original writer Kevin Williamson is a loser’s game because they weren’t trying to recreate anyone else. The two wanted to satirize slasher tropes in an alternatively scary and funny way. Scream VI carries that mission statement but heads in an exciting and unpredictable direction. With a novel setting, clear target, inspired writing/direction, and game cast, Scream VI is a true revitalization of the storied slasher series.