Scream VI feels like a confident turning point for a long-running self-referential slasher series, though it remains tantalizingly unclear what that series is becoming. For nearly a quarter of a century, the scream sequels played defense. Director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson had a back-to-back one-two punch with the success of the first two films, but Scream 3 was delayed and met with mediocre fan response. Eleven years later, with Scream 4Craven and Williamson were trying to wrap their heads around a new generation thirsting for social media fame, and that younger audience didn’t seem to care much.
Another 11 years after that, 2022 has been baptized again scream addressed the proliferation of legacy sequels in the horror genre and beyond. It was a hit with audiences and critics alike, prompting the inevitable sequel, 2023’s Scream VIis the first really accelerated scream since Scream 2 was rushed to theaters. Suddenly, scream is another A-list horror series. Or applied winkingly in business language Scream VIit is now one franchisea never-ending cycle of fan service subject to its own rules and conventions.
But when Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), niece of dearly deceased early movie nerd Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy), comes to court to deliver a hypernerdy treatise on the rules of franchises, the material isn’t quite as rich as them. explanation of “requels” (or old sequels) from the previous film. Her vague guidelines for franchises – particularly the idea that new franchise entries need to get bigger to outshine previous films – aren’t all that different from the sequel rules Randy in Scream 2.
Since this is a Scream movie, it’s possible that this iteration of the 1997 film is yet another nod to horror audiences, a nod to how Scream VI could assert itself as a major franchise entry, while ultimately returning to well-known ’90s slashings. It’s also entirely possible that directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, and screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, will take the commentary getting tired of film culture already. Two different Scream VI characters articulate this theory: “The movies don’t matter,” someone says. Ghostface himself puts it even more bluntly: “Who gives a fuck about movies?”
The answer to this rhetorical question is pretty much Mindy alone. For Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), daughter of original killer Billy Loomis and survivor of the 2022 scream, this stuff is too real. Still processing the trauma of her boyfriend wanting to kill her, she feels fiercely protective of her little sister, Tara (Jenna Ortega), as they embark on a fresh start in New York City. Tara just wants to have some fun at school, while Sam is furious with internet rumors that she was the real villain from the events of the previous movie and victimized her psycho-ex – a clever riff on the way parasocial relationships often arise online. Mindy and her brother, Chad (Mason Gooding), also graduate from New York, and the group’s social circle expands to include Mindy’s girlfriend, Anika (Devyn Nekoda), Sam and Tara’s roommate, Quinn (Liana Liberato), and Chad’s roommate, Ethan (Jack champion).
Of course, these new characters, along with everyone else in the movie, turn into suspects when someone wearing a Ghostface mask starts slashing people. From there, the film launches into a series of frequent (and often ridiculous) hairpin turns. There is a twisty twist on the classic scream cold open, with some familiar faces, but no franchise regulars. There are fewer legacy characters than last time: Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) is the only returning cast member from the original three films. But don’t think of this as a soft reboot, not with Scream 4 fan favorite Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) back in action.
Despite the game’s attempts to maintain and enrich the continuity of five previous films, there’s a sense that Scream VI is looking at what the franchise might look like in a culture where moviegoing no longer holds the same place of mass audience supremacy it once did. Cross-media franchises don’t necessarily dominate the cultural conversation anymore, but the filmmakers clearly still love scary movies. The film’s best sequence, a Halloween subway ride where the heroes cast suspicious eyes at dozens of menacingly costumed NYC citizens (including several wearing Ghostface masks, of course), is chock-full of visual references to genre classics.
They also ensure that a clip is recorded Jason takes Manhattanthe Friday the 13th series trip to New York that notoriously spends much of its runtime on a boat rather than the city streets. (Continuing a piece of that tradition, Scream VI was largely and obviously not shot in New York.) Horror fans will have a great time with this film. At the same time, the filmmakers are a collaborative team collectively known as Radio Silence – have made more of a jump-scare action movie than an atmospheric horror thriller, similar to their 2019 horror comedy Ready or not.
To be honest, the Scream movies have never been the kind of psychological slow-burners that Tara says she loves in 2022 scream. But Scream VI mainly focuses on combat and chase, with a Terminator-esque Ghostface whose stabbing power seems particularly vicious. (To combat this power-up, his victims have mysteriously become more adept than ever at surviving gnarly, repeated wounds.) There are advantages to this approach. Scream VI is more streamlined than the somewhat scattered fifth film, with the established and utterly likable “core four” of new characters taking full center stage. The satirical stuff isn’t quite as funny or pointed as the previous movie’s riffs on toxic fandom, but the movie is a better showcase for Sam and Tara as real characters. Barrera, with her sleepy anguish over her murderous family history, and Ortega, with her irresistible wariness, make a beautiful pair of Neo-Gothic siblings who depend on each other.
The family bond is what the film ultimately settles on to advance its themes, pushing the story further away from movie world commentary. Again, perhaps this is meant to reflect the decline of cinema at a time when so many movies are treated as distractions from the content mill. “It’s all about true-crime limited-series these days,” Gale bemoans her inability to sell movie rights to her previous book (although this film’s portrayal of New York law enforcement, removed from the working-class people of Woodsboro in the small town, amusingly ridiculous). The movie briefly touches on cultural legacies, forever franchises, weird collectors, and again fandom, but none of it really sticks.
And the fate of the much-hyped returnee Kirby could serve as a chilling warning to Sam and Tara: It’s nice to see Panettiere again, but her somewhat awkward role as a hotshot FBI agent shows just how hard it can be to be a juvenile slasher. reconcile movie heroes with lived experience in the real world. The Scream series may not be equipped for a transition to more character-driven plotting.
Is this a problem? While viewers are in the middle of the movie, not special. Just like the others scream sequels in general, this one makes for a spirited Saturday night at the cinema, and for now it’s still easy to imagine some of the characters returning for another round in a year or two. (Any franchise that continues Jenna Ortega’s scream-queen reign should get a pass to continue.) But fans looking for a definitive explanation of how this non-supernatural slasher outsmarted the forever franchise era will be finished, where nothing remains dead, no matter how many people are killed, will come away empty handed. Where is 2022 scream showing how the series could continue to adapt and change to fit new movie trends, this one hints at how unsustainable franchise maintenance can feel in the long run, even for a series enjoying its deserved resurgence in creativity and popularity. Suddenly, the Scream movies feel like they’re playing defense again.
Scream VI will be in cinemas from March 10.