The “Scream” movies are like pizza: when they’re good, they’re great, and even when they’re not so good, they’re still satisfying. Fortunately, “Scream VI” is a tasty serving. Despite the fact that with each new installment the “Scream” franchise comes closer and closer to the fictional “Stab” movie franchise that these films are seemingly skewering, writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick are keeping the blade sharp, while Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett bring a brawny, bruised, and gory style to this “sequel sequel.”
This is the second “Scream” film not to be directed by Wes Craven (“Ready or Not” directors Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett took over from the previous “legasequel” in 2022), and the first without franchise star Neve. Campbell as Sidney Prescott. While it’s a shame Campbell didn’t return due to an inadequate salary offer, it was time to let Sidney ride off into the sunset and release her from the duty of hunting down Ghostface. There’s a new “Scream” queen in town, Melissa Barrera, and she responds with a stab.
This time, the Woodsboro team of the most recent Ghostface survivors is in New York City; you could say it’s “Ghostface Takes Manhattan.” Tara (Jenna Ortega) attends the fictional Blackmore University, trying to live a normal life with her overprotective older sister Sam (Barrera) in tow. As usual, the film opens with a call from Ghostface, who would like to play a game, this time elevating horror nerd trivia to ivory tower level, with references to a class of century slasher film studios. XX taught at Blackmore. From the start, it’s a Ghostface start, the mimics fold, not knowing who is targeting whom and why.
The closest analogue to “Scream VI” is “Scream 2,” which is stated directly by the film’s resident Randy (“Scream’s” first horror expert and audience surrogate), his niece Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown ). Both films leave the high school setting for college, introduce new characters, and tangle with the academic side of horror. It’s bigger, hairier, and a bit messier than its predecessor, and while it has other amusing similarities to “Scream 2,” it mentions more forays into spoiler territory.
The script from this team’s previous “Scream” outing felt a bit more incisive, and went right to the heart of the toxic fanboy issue. Here, there’s a scattered message about the power of rumors and misinformation online, as Sam has become public enemy number 1, thanks to some nasty trolls and the reveal of her genetic lineage as the daughter of the original villain from ” Scream”, Billy Loomis.
What makes Sam the ultimate evolved girl is precisely her killer instinct. While the vulnerable Sidney harnessed her emotions to fight back, Sam’s Loomis DNA makes her Ghostface’s most dangerous foe: she is physically powerful and possesses almost savage energy. Barrera walks well the line between fearful and threatening, and she and Ortega make a winning, blood-spattered sisterly duo.
Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett take us strutting through the streets of New York City through the dizzying and disorienting camera of cinematographer Brett Jutkiewicz. The central sequence, a subway packed with Halloween revellers, is a beautiful piece of suspense, using the sights, sounds, and geography of space to create a very real sense of public terror that hints at the notion of bystander effect. . How can one be safe from Ghostface in a world of copycat killers and an increasingly wry and apathetic world?
Last year’s “Scream” proved that this team of filmmakers were worthy heirs to the iconic franchise from Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson, and while “Scream VI” underscores that point, it also illustrates that there’s still a rich vein to be tapped, using the established tradition for taking the preeminent slasher movie IP in exciting new directions.
Walsh is a film critic for Tribune News Service.
Classified: R, for strong bloody violence and language throughout, and brief drug use
Execution time: 2 hours, 3 minutes
Playing: Starts March 10 in general release