It’s hard to believe that Scream, the flick that took the world by storm with its loving, meta-parody of slashers, is now six films deep across three decades. If its initial spate of imitators didn’t do so already, it’s safe to say that Scream has become the exact thing it set out to (again, lovingly) lampoon. While it’s missing a 3D entry, as well as an entry subtitled The Final Chapter that we all know is nowhere near being the actual final chapter, the franchise has hit upon many genre tropes while also providing some new tropes of its own.
The magic of this knowing combo of tones is that, for the most part, the Scream movies end up being above criticism. Just about any shortcoming can be chalked up to “well yeah, it’s a commentary on movies that do such things.” And honestly, fair enough. Sure, it’s a bit of a copout, but so far, it’s a copout that hasn’t had the need to be repeatedly invoked. This is because beyond the winks and nods inherent to the brand, the Scream movies have all been pretty effective slashers in their own right. There’s plenty of terror and suspense in each entry, with the added bonus of uncommonly strong character work and performances. Like Halloween and Black Christmas before it, Scream was a ‘classy’ slasher, and it’s kept its class levels high throughout the franchise so far. And this time around it’s franchises that are the target of the latest film’s meta text, even if not much is really done with the idea outside of some quippy lip service. But again, that may be part of the plan (copout?), given that much like other late franchise entries, subtext has given way to plot, plot, plot, and plot.
Scream VI has a lot of plot.
This is not a bad thing, however. Whereas the previous entry introduced our new group of core youths/potential victims, it also kept some of the original Woodsboro gang around for nostalgia’s sake. Scream VI is clearly quite interested in moving away from the original Woodsboro gang entirely. This is due in part to the absence of Neve Campbell, who chose not to return without a proper paycheck, but it’s also due to the fact that it’s just plain time to move on. The only thing left to do with the original characters is kill them off, and after offing Dewey in part five, even that would feel contrived at this point (and if I’m being honest, the script gymnastics that are pulled to bring Gale Weathers back for this entry are about as contrived as they come).
As promised by the excellent trailers, Scream VI takes place in New York City. After a clever opening sequence/kill, the setting is used about as often as it is in another Big Apple-centric slasher, Jason Takes Manhattan, meaning that it is not used much at all. The bulk of the film occurs in dormitories, apartments, and an abandoned movie theater. Short of an intense and scary sequence on the subway, it might as well be Woodsboro. Hardly a complaint, especially since the relocation, as underused as it is, is nonetheless a sign that the filmmakers are clearly eager to break free from formula and redefine the series. One would hope that they’d have moved further down this path now that we’re two movies deep in this new leg of the franchise, but since the Scream movies will likely continue for many more years, there’s plenty of time.
There’s little that can be said about the plot without stepping into spoiler territory, but as for a basic set up, it’s pretty standard: Tara (Jenna Ortega) is now in college. Her best friends Mindy and Chad (Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding) have joined her at school. Her paranoid older sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) has followed the gang to NYC to keep an eye on things. And wouldn’t you know it? Another Ghostface starts stabbing people and making threatening phone calls. We have a Scream movie on our hands!
Stylistically this is a bit of a departure from the Scream model. This is the meanest and goriest entry since the original, and it may even be the funniest (even if the “we all know we’re in a movie” angle of the humor has gotten almost literal to the point of absurdity). The color palette has warmed up a bit as well, and there are more instances of camera acrobatics and playful visual gags meant to riff on the rhythm of slasher scares. It’s paced remarkably well, and despite a third act that crashes and burns pretty hard, it’s non-stop fun.
The final act has that “we shot five endings so as not to enable spoilers” feel to it that makes it all sort of weightless. The big reveal of the who and why is disappointing and bland, and calls into question the physicality of Ghostface in a way that strains believability further than any previous entries’ final reveals. That said, it is another piece of evidence that the filmmakers are trying to build a new mythology to match the new faces and updated house style apparent in the most recent entries.
On the one hand, you know exactly what to expect from Scream VI. It’s hardly a reinvention of the wheel. On the other, there are enough small tweaks to promise the franchise a long life going forward. Hopefully future entries will really step things up and try something new. There are shades of it here, but few instances are capitalized on in any notable way. We’re coming up on thirty years of Scream — it’s time to change the game as fearlessly and inventively as the original film did back in ’96.
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Written by James Vanderbilt, Guy Busick, based on characters by Kevin Williamson
Starring Melissa Barrera, Courteney Cox, Jenna Ortega, Jasmin Savoy Brown
Rated R, 123 minutes