The Scream movies are legend, especially to fans of a certain age, but what makes this franchise great is what was accomplished with last year’s “rebootquel”. In short, incoming directors Radio Silence were able to subvert horror franchise tropes in a new way that extended its life by reaching a new audience. Because, let’s be honest, the Scream model got played out back in the ’90s, and horror has gone through many iterations since then. As successful, and incredibly fun, as the previous film was, Scream VI is even better.
Why mince words about the reason Scream VI is so damn good? It’s fucking BRUTAL! The opening scene, in which a beautiful young woman, usually a notable celeb, gets wacked by the Ghostface, always sets the tone. And in this case, a classy lady waiting at a posh New York restaurant for her date to arrive is cut to ribbons with such bloody relish it damn near surpasses all of the blood seen in the last few installments. There’s something particularly despicable about this murder, too. It’s the “toxic incel” vibe we get from the killer for having lured this woman he could probably never date, out into the alley so she could be butchered like meat. What also makes this interesting is that Ghostface is almost immediately unmasked…and the culprit made into a victim moments later.
It’s a nifty little twist that sets up one of the most compelling Scream movies yet, because the previous film made it so that almost anything is possible. The original films always referenced old school slasher flicks as influence, especially when coming up with the infamous “rules” to follow that the movie expert character always relays. But Scream is its own standard to live by now, and so with Scream 6 it truly feels like the previous movies and all of the various characters, whether they were murderers or victims, has a role to play. Suffice it to say, this is one sequel in which rewatching ALL of the previous films will do you a service.
Taking place months after the last film, Scream VI finds the “core four” survivors in New York City, trying to escape the memory of their encounter with that version of Ghostface. Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) is going to therapy and being wildly overprotective of her little sister, Tara (Jenna Ortega), who is just trying to move on and get through college. They’re joined by twin siblings Chad (Mason Gooding), who is crushing hard on Tara, and cynical horror pro Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown). It’s through Mindy that we get the “rules” recited to us, along with her jaded commentary on the state of horror movies, saving the most biting criticism for what relates most directly to Scream itself.
And of course, there are a couple of legacy characters who make their return. Courteney Cox is back as attention-seeking reporter/author Gale Weathers, along with Hayden Panettiere as fan-favorite Kirby Reed, another Ghostface survivor. The absence of Neve Campbell’s centerpiece character, Sidney Prescott, is dismissed in such a lame, ham-fisted way that it’s almost like it was thrown into the script at the last second. Perhaps it was? Surely, producers hoped until the very end that Campbell would change her mind and return.
There’s also no shortage of extra characters who serve as red herrings, body bag fodder, or both. Avatar: The Way of Water breakout Jack Champion, unrecognizable from that James Cameron juggernaut, plays the dorky hanger-on, Ethan. Liana Liberato plays Sam and Tara’s promiscuous…er, “sex-positive” roommate Quinn, and Josh Segarra is a sexy neighbor with an eye for Sam. Dermot Mulroney growls through his performance as hardened detective Bailey, whose personal investment in this new, deadlier Ghostface, only grows as the body count gets higher.
Radio Silence, the directing duo comprised of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, promised that Scream VI would be the goriest yet and they weren’t joking. It’s hard for any horror-thriller to shock me, and that goes double for Scream which tends to be very tongue-in-cheek. But I was genuinely stunned at the level of bloodshed, and dammit I LOVED IT! This Ghostface kicks all kinds of ass, and we get to see every lethal kill play out in gruesome fashion. This is another subtle subversion of our expectations. While most mainstream horrors are bending over backwards to be all-ages (lookin’ at you M3GAN!) Scream VI is going for the jugular.
The amped-up level of bloodshed is so unrelenting that we have even less clue who is actually going to survive to the end. The “core four” get put through the ringer in some truly breathtaking action setpieces, including one that takes place aboard a subway train at Halloween…where far too many folks are dressed as Ghostface. The Ghostface has become something of an urban legend, revered when he should be despised. There’s social media and conspiracy theory culture to thank for that, just as they are largely responsible for Sam being seen as a potential killer and not the victim. A key thread established in the previous film returns as Sam battles her legacy as the daughter of original Ghostface, Billy Loomis. As she becomes consumed with the rage to kill this Ghostface once and for all, will she also become just like her father?
Scream has the benefit of introducing a new Ghostface with each movie, making them as much a mystery as a thriller. That also means each new film has to come up with a convincing “whodunnit” storyline to keep us on our toes. Part of the fun of each new chapter is guessing who the killer will be this time. In the case of Scream VI, the truth is always right in front of you and yet just out of reach. When the mask is finally lifted, you might slap yourself for not seeing it sooner, but you’ll want to come back and watch again to see all of the missed clues.
While Sidney’s absence is felt, Scream VI does a better job of establishing its “core four” and supporting cast, making us care about who will survive this deadly game. Two movies into this new Scream “reboot” and the franchise has never felt more alive.
Scream VI opens in theaters on March 10th.