Having taken the reins on Scream 5 after the passing of Wes Craven, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have done an admirable job retaining the tone, personality and overall quality of Craven’s films – perhaps the most consistent horror franchise of all-time. Their films have a sensibility that aligns with that of Craven and original screenwriter Kevin Williamson, but with a distinct style all of their own. The kills aren’t necessarily more graphic, but there’s a muscular viciousness to the violence that feels visceral and scary in a very different way.
After the events of Scream 5, Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) has accompanied her sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) to New York, where Tara is going to college, along with fellow survivors Mindy (Jasmin Savoy-Brown) and Chad Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding). Dealing with trauma and an online hate campaign, Sam is understandably tense, and overprotective of Tara, who just wants a normal college experience, but when a new slew of murders begins on their doorstep, Sam finds herself in the spotlight once again.
I’ve already seen Scream VI dismissed as “Ghostface in the big city!” which is really selling it short. The move to New York never feels contrived, and in fact makes a ton more sense than staying in Woodsboro after all those murders!
With an opening sequence that rivals the sheer meta brazenness of the prologue to Scre4m in its subversiveness, Scream VI stays true to the blackly comic tone of the original series while making innovative use of the new location. The anonymity of the rush hour crowds on the subway, the claustrophobia of the tiny apartments as opposed to the huge houses of suburban Woodsboro. There are fewer places to hide, and less opportunities to run, leading to a genuinely nerve-wracking climb to an adjoining apartment.
There is an elephant in the room when discussing this film, in that the iconic face of the franchise, Neve Campbell, declined to return to the role of Sidney Prescott. However, Campbell’s absence, keenly felt though it is, ultimately enhances the film, underlining the fact that this is very much a new era, with a new protagonist. What the film does very successfully, is convincingly position Sam and Tara as the new mainstays of the series.
Refreshingly, while Sidney was very much a heroic character, there is a darker side to Sam which was first hinted at in Scream 5 and is very much brought to the forefront here, portrayed expertly by Barrera. The spectre of Billy Loomis (played by the apparently ageless Skeet Ulrich) is still present, but while in the fifth film he seemed to be a weirdly benevolent presence, this film marks a return to his malevolent, creepy self, and the influence he has Sam is much more sinister. The final confrontation especially suggests a much darker future for the character in the already greenlit next film.
The cast all acquit themselves well, although Jasmin Savoy Brown‘s Mindy is quickly becoming my favourite character in the franchise, with an even better grasp of the themes and hallmarks of the horror genre than her uncle (Sorry Randy, but I’ve still not forgiven you for misquoting Aliens). Her enthusiasm for the horror genre is infectious when delivering her now-customary meta monologue, dropping references left right and centre.
The returning cast all give knowing performances, with Courtney Cox especially leaning into the ruthlessly pragmatic side of Gale Weathers. The film also marks the welcome return of Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) the breakout character of Scre4m. Her presence is the perfect blend of reassuring and vaguely suspicious, and Panettiere judges each character beat brilliantly.
The energy keeps up throughout the runtime, the characters are all likeable, and it only runs out of steam once Ghostface is unmasked. It’s honestly a bit of a disappointment, and the script tries to make a virtue of the how obvious one plot twist is, which feels really misjudged. The reveal is only one part of the film though, and historically this has always been the weakest element of the series. It’s not egregious enough to sink the whole film, and all the actors sell it well enough that it’s still an enjoyably chaotic climax.
Similarly though, I wish the film had the courage of its convictions when it comes to killing off main characters. There are a lot of murders, but very few characters we care about get killed. I know this series has a history of resurrecting characters who were definitely supposed to die (Kirby being one!) but there are a few too many fake-outs and close calls here, especially given the ruthlessness of the previous entry.
I’m not going to do that thing where I say “well, it’s not as good as Scream but better than Scream 4…” or anything like that, because it feels churlish to do that for a film that feels so organically connected to the rest of the series. Crucially, this feels like a Scream film in the best sense of the term. The directors completely understand the tone of the series, and create some set-pieces that stand alongside the best of the franchise.
If the last film was a symbolic passing of the torch from the old guard to the new generation of legacy characters, this instalment consolidates them as the protagonists for this new series. Hopefully the next film will take a few more risks, but this is still a ton of fun, packed to the gills with supremely tense sequences, wry film references and playful meta humor making it a worthy addition to the series.