Scream VI review: another Ghostface, more killings

Scream VI
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With Scream VI, cinema’s favourite slasher whodunnit series continues to be good fun, but loses some of its stakes…


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By now, anyone who’s been following the progression of the Scream films might as well have a degree in Film Studies. The series has taught us the rules and tropes of slashers, sequels, post-modern (or ‘meta’) instalments, and legacy sequels – and, on occasion, subverted them.

Scream VI promises to tear up the rulebook as the sixth movie lands the series firmly in franchise territory, and you bet that Randy’s niece Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) gives us a lesson on exactly what that means pretty early on. 

For one, the blood-spilling action has been transplanted from the classic setting of Woodsboro, Michigan, to the big and bustling New York City. Desperate to move on from last year’s events (for those unfamiliar, two lunatics in ghost masks wielding knives made menacing phone calls and stabbed some people. Standard stuff) sisters Sam (Melissa Barerra) and Tara (Jenna Ortega) Carpenter move to New York with twins Chad (Mason Gooding) and Mindy. 

With Tara trying to start a new life and Sam struggling to move on, their unsettled city lives are violently interrupted once again by a Ghostface killer. Unlike previous culprits, there’s something different about this iteration of the character – they wear a beaten and worn mask, and seem more violent and unpredictable than any before. 

Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin return to direct this sequel to last year’s Scream, and they, alongside screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, quickly set up a story that develops the characters they introduced, brings back legacy characters, and makes it exceedingly clear that none of them are safe from a killer who has a completely different kind of motive.

In terms of the scares and the set pieces, having the movie set in New York does Scream VI some huge favours. We’re used to various killings taking place at house parties or semi-secluded locations, but here there’s nowhere to hide. It takes the inherently unsettling parts of the big city – the dark alleyways, the crowded subway – and makes them all potential murder sites, with the scenes set there full of suspense. 

The body count is also up. While none of the killings in the Scream films can be considered particularly gory, there are some rather nasty injuries in this one that will at least make you wince. The movie does, however, fail to deliver on the amount of carnage that it promises, and the stakes feel disappointingly low by the end. 

That’s not all there is to it, though. While the set pieces are tense and exciting, it’s surprising how much we end up caring for the characters. Jenna Ortega, now a household name thanks to her leading role in Netflix’s Wednesday, gets a chance to flesh out Tara in a way the previous film didn’t allow for. She spent the majority of that movie as the intended victim, cooped up in hospital beds and badly injured. Here, Ortega’s feisty performance conveys Tara’s newfound fight for independence, but is also balanced with a gentler and more emotionally open side of the character. 

Courteney Cox and Hayden Panettiere are full of energy as the returning characters Gale Weathers and Kirby Reed, respectively. They also have good chemistry as their characters engage in not-so-friendly banter. Meanwhile, Dermot Mulroney is great as newcomer Detective Bailey. There’s a big David Arquette-shaped hole in this film, but Mulroney’s serious, grizzled New York detective is a fun addition to the cast. He fills Dewey’s policeman role but is different enough to not feel comparable to him. 

As a whodunnit, Scream VI fares quite well. Some may find the answer to whodiddit easier to figure out than others, but the film goes out of its way to throw some misleading curveballs.

But here’s the disappointing part. The makers of the Scream movies, be that original director Wes Craven or Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin, have always known when to bring the films back. They’ve always returned when there’s something meaningful to say about the state of the horror genre or about cinema or culture in general. A something that they could put a witty, meta spin on, of course. 

Scream 4, coming in 2011 – 11 years after the third instalment, was almost prescient in the way it commented on social media and influencer culture. Scream (the 2022 one) similarly had something to say about the legacy sequel, a type of film that Hollywood seems to be all about these days. 

Scream VI is a lot of fun, but it’s more occupied with following the story of Scream (still the 2022 one), while pointing back at plot points from the previous films to seem like it’s grander than ultimately is. 

Regardless, it remains good to know that no matter how much the Scream franchise tries to mix things up and surprise us, the credits will always be in the ‘you wouldn’t steal a car’ font. 

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