REVIEW: Scream VI (2023)

Sam Carpenter (right, played by Melissa Barrera) surrounded by Ghostface killer costumes in SCREAM VI — PHOTO: Paramount Pictures.

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett — Screenplay by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick.

The latest film in my favorite horror film franchise, Scream VI, was released late in my region, so even before I sat down to watch it, it was already a massive success at the box office. It is the sixth film in the series, which also includes a television series, and it is thus the kind of continuation that may make cynics compare it to the horror franchise trend that Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson (the original creators of Scream) lampooned in the opening of Scream 4. In that film, characters discuss how, by films 6 and 7, the Stab film series (the in-universe film series based on the events of Scream) has run out of steam. That is a real possibility for any franchise, whether horror or not, once it gets big enough. It can become the same movie over and over again, and it may end up in the difficult cycle of having to top itself again and again. In the hands of Radio Silence (the directing duo of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett), the franchise was rebooted in a clever way that honored the legacy of the franchise with 2022’s Scream. Only a single year after that film was released, Radio Silence has already put out a sequel. In spite of an inventive new location, Scream VI doesn’t ever feel as clever or fresh as the best films in the series, but it is still a solid slasher sequel that should satisfy long-time fans. Thankfully, the franchise doesn’t feel as stale as one might’ve feared at this point. The old tricks still work, even if they aren’t as fresh or sharply defined as they once were. 

Set a year after the events of 2022’s Scream, Radio Silence’s Scream VI takes place in New York City where the young survivors from the previous film now live and study at University. But they struggle to escape their past trauma as a recent book from Gale Weathers (still played by Courteney Cox) has emboldened conspiracy theorists to widely share the theory that Sam (played by Melissa Barrera) was the true mastermind of the recent Woodsboro killings. Sam has sought out therapy to deal with visions of her father, as well as the way the public has latched onto baseless theories, while her sister Tara (played by Jenna Ortega) is trying to forget about it all by throwing herself into college life and college parties. When two of their fellow college students are slain by a Ghostface killer, the core four survivors — which also includes Mindy (played by Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (played by Mason Gooding) — are once again the center of attention, and Sam even becomes a suspect. Now they must figure out who they can trust and what the ‘new rules’ are. 

Though not the first Scream film to take place outside of Woodsboro, Scream VI is the first film in the franchise to have uprooted the slasher murder mystery franchise for the purpose of taking it to New York City. Ghostface in Manhattan is a fun idea that also dominated its marketing push, but it should be said that even though this film is meant to take place in and around the Big Apple, there is no getting around the fact that this was actually shot in Canada. I’m sure this fact will stick out like a sore thumb for New Yorkers, but even from my perspective, I don’t think the film really sold the location all that well. Considering this is a film about a serial killer in Manhattan, the homicide case feels strangely small-scale with Dermot Mulroney’s detective Bailey being the only real character from local law enforcement. I also think it could’ve gotten a lot out of touristy locations, but the film doesn’t really go there. This isn’t to say that there aren’t any strong slasher set-piece locations, but the set-pieces are not in memorable New York locations, which I really expected some to be considering the huge marketing push. 

The Scream films are, of course, murder mystery movies with a well-defined formula built on film tropes and rules, and the extent to which these angles work will always have an impact on the effectiveness of these films. Frankly, I think this is an aspect that is lacking a teeny tiny bit. Though Jasmin Savoy Brown is once again a lot of fun to watch in the chief film nerd role (and even though there are some fun callouts to giallo-horror and Dario Argento, as well as the usual Scream-esque meta-language), the spelling out of the rules for the ‘sequel-to-the-requel’ felt undercooked to me and not nearly as sharply defined or clever as with Scream 2022, whose toxic fandom commentary was extremely effective. This time around it almost felt like an afterthought, though I concede that may change on subsequent viewings. It’s also a little bit of a shame that the mystery is, in my opinion, quite obvious. With very few new characters, the list of suspects is really quite small, and, on top of that, there are a couple of lines of dialogue that tip the film’s hand a little bit too early on. Even though parts of the reveal are quite convoluted, I saw everything coming from a mile away and knew what the central twist was going to be. 

As a massive fan of these films, there are a couple of things that I have to point out. I think the opening is absolutely brilliant. There is a bit of stunt casting in how they use Samara Weaving (the star of Radio Silence’s excellent Ready or Not) in the opening, and she’s fun to watch as a bubbly film professor on a blind date. It’s a really disturbing and long opening that eventually tries to subvert audience expectations by having one Ghostface attack another Ghostface. This is such a cool idea, but I really wish they would’ve extended this double murder mystery and made it an actual part of the film, instead of just having it be a cool but ultimately relatively unimportant opening surprise. I also have a bit of a problem with how they use Courteney Cox’s Gale Weathers in this film. I think it is a slap in the face of the previous film and Dewey that Gale went against her word at the end of the previous film by publishing a book about Richie and Amber. It’s a nitpick, but I had to mention it because it really bothered me, as it feels like character assassination. I also think the third act is especially too campy for its own good, but I did think the abandoned movie theater location was neat (even though it felt like there was some missed potential here).

Except for the fact that the new supporting characters are much too thinly drawn (and the fact that some performances are a little bit too over-the-top), I do think the film does a good job of focusing on character relationships for the purpose of strengthening the main characters who made it out alive of Scream 2022. The core four, as they are dubbed here, are really fun to watch with Jenna Ortega and Mason Gooding having had their characters inflated in a way that I thought was really smart, fun, and cute. I also think that the film does a better job of building Melissa Barrera’s character here. I also must mention that this is the first Scream film without Neve Campbell, the film series’ star who plays Sidney. Campbell reportedly felt undervalued in salary negotiations. Though it is weird to have a Scream film without Sidney, it must be said that the actual plot is designed in a way that makes it so that Sidney’s absence isn’t an actual problem.

I feel like I’ve been a little bit too negative in this review, but the truth is that it isn’t that bad, I just care about this franchise quite a bit and am being a little bit harsh on it. Frankly, there are a lot of things that work excellently here. The film has its tongue placed squarely in its cheek in certain scenes, meaning there are some funny jokes here and there. Even though the Big Apple location isn’t as effective as expected, there are some killer slasher set pieces that are unique to this film. There is this really tense and suspenseful scene set inside a bodega, where the Ghostface killer is armed with a shotgun. There is a solid scene where characters have to use a ladder to climb from apartment to apartment. And then, of course, there is the train sequence that has been hyped up by trailers. It’s absolutely great and probably the most suspenseful sequence in the film. Now, these sequences are mostly predictable, but they work really well for the film. The attacks and kills in the film are honestly really brutal, but — and I think this is a bit of a problem — the brutality of these attacks makes it a little bit too unbelievable when some characters survive them. 

‘More of the same’ can be both comforting or worrying depending on what you are describing and who you’re telling it to. Radio Silence’s Scream VI absolutely is more of the same with a sprinkling of minor changes and more brutal attacks to keep things interesting. Although Scream VI doesn’t quite live up to 2022’s entry or the first two Craven films in the series, it is still an undeniably entertaining meta-murder-mystery movie. It’s a good sequel, but it isn’t much more than that, in large part because it doesn’t have as much to say as the excellent 2022 legacyquel did.

7.5 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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