It’s difficult to think of another series of horror films that has spanned three decades, in which each film has been generally well-received critically and financially with the only real discourse is regarding how fans would rank them against each other. It’s fitting then that the talk at the center of Scream VI is about how the horrific events that have followed the self-dubbed “Core Four” from Woodsboro to the Big Apple are no longer playing out as part of a sequel or a re-quel, but has now evolved into a full-blown franchise.
Featuring the highest body count, a fresh setting, and a Ghostface that is not afraid to use a shotgun, there is a lot to be excited about with this film. From its signature killer opening, which is the best since Scream 2, you get the sense that the film is out to subvert expectations and take some big stabs while covering new ground. It’s not an easy task, or one without risk, but at least up until the third act, Scream VI seems to be succeeding with every twist and turn.
Just as the previous entry did, VI ramps up the violence. Why stab someone once or twice when you can go until your arm gets tired? There are some brutal attacks, but more than that, the film is suspenseful, and full of great set pieces which fluidly progress the story. While the standouts are certainly the ladder escape and the subway, which features heavily in the trailer, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett really deliver mounting tension up until the big reveal and interweave it with quieter moments of reflection.
The film’s longer runtime allows the Core Four time to develop their characters a lot further, showing how they are coping with their shared trauma in different ways. This is most interestingly on display in the dynamic between Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega). With Sam’s lineage revealed and the way she very aggressively dispatched Richie (Jack Quaid) — even though he deserved it — there was a question of how she would be perceived, and so it was great to see that addressed right from the start. We see Sam in therapy, but once she relents and opens up, her therapist (Henry Czerny) really wishes she hadn’t. Tara appears to be doing her best to move on and live the life of a normal college student, but it’s also apparent that she’s rebelling against Sam’s overprotective nature and numbing her pain in her own way.
While Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) is consistently used in the same way as the last film, Mason Gooding is given more of an opportunity to explore Chad as a character. There is an interesting dynamic at play for him, as some of the tough guy persona from the last movie has been replaced by a genuine fear of getting repeatedly stabbed again—which conflicts with his desire to be a protector.
With a franchise, there is a whole new set of rules to be laid out, and that task once again falls to Mindy, in playfully engaging fashion. It essentially boils down to nobody being safe, with her cleverly indicating how even James Bond and Luke Skywalker had to die for their franchises to live on. She’s upset with herself for not correctly identifying the killers last time around, a mistake that almost proved deadly, and one she doesn’t want to repeat again.
While returning characters like the Core Four, Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), and fan favorite Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) are in harm’s way, it’s also safe to assume that fresh faces are either suspects, set to meet their demise, or both. That list includes Mindy’s girlfriend Anika (Devyn Nekoda), Detective Bailey (Dermot Mulroney) and his daughter Quinn (Liana Liberato), Chad’s roommate Ethan (Jack Champion), and Sam’s secret love interest, Danny (Josh Segarra), among others. Even though some may have limited screentime before meeting their demise, there was a clear effort to make you care for them. Anytime someone is selfless and protective, it endears them to the audience and adds a layer of sadness to see them go down, especially when acted so well.
If you’re a fan of these films, this one is a fun and violent walk down Woodsboro Lane, full of nostalgia, nods to popular fan theories, and one amazing shrine to every Ghostface that came before. It’s a celebration of the film’s history, and if you’re going to try to work around the absence of the unquestioned “final girl” of the franchise, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), it’s a good time to create as many tie-ins with the past as possible.
It’s a great time for Gale (Courtney Cox) to shine, as she speaks with Ghostface on the phone for the very first time and is involved in the best chase sequence since she evaded Ghostface in the halls of Windsor College. While she is very much a supporting character to the core four, she is rightfully treated with reverence, and Cox finds the perfect balance to show Gale is taking the threat seriously, but also acts like she’s been there before — because she has.
Along with the change of scenery to New York City, the most exciting news surrounding the production of this film was the return of Panettiere as Kirby, after last year’s Scream revealed she survived the events of Scream 4, a movie in which she stole the show. Her character has evolved quite a bit, becoming an FBI agent determined never to be a victim again, but one thing that hasn’t changed is her love of the horror genre, and the movie doesn’t miss a chance to get her and Mindy together to test each other’s merit.
The weakest part of the film is the climactic third act, but that opinion primarily rests on if you feel the killer reveal and motive is surprising or at least satisfying, and how much you are willing to overlook what could be perceived as plot holes, or at least unexplained weaknesses. Through two films, James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick have proven very adept at writing a ruthless and engaging story with thrilling and fun dialogue, but you could argue that their films have been the most flawed in this area. They certainly can be given credit for “going for it” here, but it feels a bit underwhelming considering how good everything leading up to it is.
Some of that also depends on the killer’s delivery once the mask is off. Often, once the deception and whodunit aspect of the film is over, we are treated to a fantastically eccentric performance where the killer can fully embrace the chaotic nature of their actions and gloat about them and their brilliant plans. Just as fans all have varying opinions on ranking the movies, they also have rankings for the respective killers, and while the action-packed showdown that plays out at the end of the movie is certainly up towards the top, the performance here leans a little too far into camp in moments to rival some that have come before.
Whether you agree that the film misses the mark late, there is no denying that Scream VI is another solid entry to the franchise, and a very fun movie. It further adds to the legacy that Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson began, and shows that the franchise can continue to explore new surroundings and new themes without feeling redundant or stale. With an exciting blend of new and legacy characters, and the potential for Neve Campbell to one day return, there is still a bright and bloody future ahead for all involved.