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Scream VI Review: The Sinister Sequel Cranks Up The Gore

EDITORS' RATING : 7.5 / 10
  • Raises the ante and helps the franchise move forward in new and exciting ways
  • Expands what a "Scream" movie can be
  • The returning cast from the last outing has grown more comfortable in their respective roles
  • Final killer reveal is a bit convoluted, even for this franchise
  • Neve Campbell is sorely missed

How do you keep a franchise fresh as the installment numbers inch ever close to double digits? For the "Scream" films, a series rooted in a decidedly '90s brand meta-commentary, the task of staying interesting — much less good — becomes exponentially more difficult with time. But from the moment we all saw the "Scream VI" logo transform the "m" into the roman numeral for "6," it should have been obvious everyone involved would keep the flame alive or die trying. 

Luckily, returning directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett (alongside returning scribes James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick) remain pretty perfect for the job, both in terms of their sincere love for what has come before and their willingness to imagine a "Scream" film further outside the lines than was previously thought possible. With this new outing, the Wes Craven era drifts into the rearview, leaving a wide open horizon for, well, whatever else the studio may want to do to keep the machine going for as long as it generates coin.

It's entirely conceivable that the adjustments in tone and the hail marys thrown might put off a segment of the OG fanbase, but if it keeps the brand moving forward, that may be a sacrifice Paramount is willing to make. We may look back on this as the tipping point, what some are already calling the Fast & Furi-fication of the beloved slasher franchise. But if Vin and the family are hitting number 10 this year, maybe it's what's best for Ghostface.

Empire state of mind

Picking up from the end of "Scream (2022)," the filmmakers take the Ghostface killer on to where Jason Vorhees has trod before: New York City. The new class of Woodsboro survivors, Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) alongside twins Chad and Mindy Meeks (Jasmin Savoy-Brown and Mason Gooding) have moved to the Big Apple for college, with Tara's older sister Sam following them to keep them all safe. While the traumatic experiences they've endured have undoubtedly brought them closer together than ever, Sam's overprotective ways are stifling Tara's hopes to leave this grisly business in the past so she can live a normal collegiate life. Into the domestic drama of this close-knit group adapting to big city life is thrust a brand new set of Ghostface killings. 

From the outset of the film's signature prologue kill, this is the most exciting approach to the new paradigm since Craven himself started "Scream 4" off with a Russian nesting doll of fourth-wall-breaking reveals. The filmmakers establish two key concepts very early on: one, that a killer like this loose in NYC is going to be a completely different beast than in the sleepy suburbs of Woodsboro; and two, that this particular killer or set of killers is approaching the murders very differently than any of their predecessors. The result is a less predictable, more vicious, and altogether more intense threat.

As Mindy points out in this film's "Randy" explanation scene, this is no longer a sequel or a "re-quel," but the new, heretofore uncharted waters of franchise filmmaking. It means that while nostalgic markers and the expected rhyming with prior outings are still distinct possibilities, there are no longer any sacred tropes. If these films are meant to mirror the current Hollywood trends that surround them, we're living in a time where stars are interchangeable, classic castmates are expendable, and nothing is too out of the question for the particulars of the proceedings. 

This being the first installment without original Final Girl Sidney Prescott, due to the studio lowballing actress Neve Campbell, "Scream VI" can do just about anything and get away with it. Every chapter finds a way to explain how all bets are off, but in this one, they're really off. Anything short of randomly crossing over with another Paramount property or maybe time travel feels like fair game. 

Without spoiling anything, there's nothing here that's got the series jumping the shark. It doesn't go too far in any new direction or break the aesthetic distance by introducing clones or bringing anyone back from the dead. Instead, what it does is inflate the scope of the world further from the confines of their hometown and dial up the intensity of the scares and kills. "Scream VI" feels like the nastiest and most violent of the franchise thus far, which is saying something given the first dead body we saw on screen in this film had its intestines hanging out. But there's just something blunt and pugilistic about the killings here. There's a sense that anybody can die, even bystanders. It feels like the filmmakers are trying to capture the wanton malice that feels like it's lurking through society and tuck it all behind the Ghostface mask. Unlike David Gordon Green's work with the Shape in the newer "Halloween" films, though, that social commentary never feels all that central, instead choosing to focus more on the characters themselves.

Found family

Of all the "Scream" films, this one feels the absolute least like a whodunit. Sure, the characters all talk constantly about who the killer could be, but there's a defeated jadedness to their guessing games. The core four survivors from last time are so well versed both in the pop culture history that inspires this genre of films but also in the in-universe mythology of the real killings that have taken the lives of their friends, and the friends of their progenitors. The film itself also doesn't seem to care if the audience figures out who did it before the reveals come, as every waking minute seems to be hammering the viewer with the idea that not only could it be anyone, but that whatever their eventual justification could be is ultimately meaningless. 

It's both refreshing and frustrating. Sure, it's pleasant to set aside the armchair sleuthing and focus on the inherent danger and how heavily it is impacting the central figures we've invested in. But it does take away one of the more charming elements of this brand of slasher. The main reason it's so confounding is that by the time the killer reveal does come, it doesn't live up to the drama that precedes it. Is that the point? That no clever explanation for megalomaniacal plans for murder can overcome the sheer inhumanity it takes to put on a mask and stab someone to death? Maybe, but then one would suspect the filmmakers wouldn't be having such a blast thinking up new ways to capture that brutality on screen for the entertainment of millions. 

One would also hope they wouldn't find so much cartoonish glee in the ongoing "am I a monster, too?" internal conflict Sam suffers through as the child of original Ghostface killer Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich, again returning in evil force ghost form — it's a major testament to Barrera's talents as an actress that she continues to make this subplot palatable enough to not be entirely laughable). The real strength lies in the central relationship between Sam and Tara. We've all watched Jenna Ortega become a bonafide star with the popularity of Netflix's "Wednesday" series, but she and Barrera sharing top billing here makes the most sense. It really feels like the dual identity of the modern final girl of survivor and victim, aggressor and defender, is split between these two sisters who must protect one another both physically and emotionally. 

It feels like a connection that can be explored again and again, especially now that this chapter has solidified the "found family" concept that has fueled the "Fast" films to billion-dollar box office returns. Does that mean we're only a few more "Scream" movies away from Ghostface in space? Only time will tell.

"Scream VI" hits theaters on Friday, March 10.