You can always rely on the “Scream” movies for great meta-humor and gory murders, and the sixth film is no exception. Co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett offer exciting new set pieces, amusing self-aware comedy and lots of delightful characters, but it’s hard to shake the sensation that no matter how much noise “Scream VI” makes, it doesn’t have a lot to say.
Wes Craven’s original “Scream” talked a big game about horror, but it was more than a laundry list of tropes, to be subverted or followed depending on screenwriter Kevin Williamson’s whims.
It spoke to a generation raised on home video, who filtered even the most dramatic and traumatic events in their lives through the entertainment they’d already consumed. It also introduced an undercurrent of misogyny that would be explored throughout the original trilogy, as one killer after another blamed Sidney Prescott’s promiscuous mother for their problems, even after they found out Maureen Prescott was, herself, a victim.
Last year Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett gave the “Scream” series the “requel” treatment — that is to say, a sequel that mirrors the original so much that it plays like a remake — and when they weren’t commenting on that specific Hollywood trend, they were raising serious questions about obsessive fanaticism and family histories of mental illness. In addition to all the stupendous stabbings and clever dialogue, the playfully titled “Scream” was also smart and incisive.
“Scream VI” struggles to find a sturdy root for its thrills, but at least it’s consistently thrilling. It’s
an engaging slasher movie amusement park ride – but just like any amusement park ride, it’s not
as exhilarating the sixth time around, it probably won’t impress you with its subtext, and you can
usually see the ending coming around the bend.
It’s been several years since the events of “Scream” — which, in classic slasher movie sequel fashion, means it technically takes place in the future — and the survivors of the previous film are now living in New York City where most of them attend college. Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) is trying to process her trauma through therapy, her little sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) is trying to party her cares away, and their friends Mindy (Jasmin Savoy-Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding) are coping just fine by focusing on their own lives and crushes.
“Scream VI” begins, as all “Scream” movies must, with an inventive new murder in the prologue, and kudos to screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick for coming up with a doozy this time. After an initial humdrum slash the film just keeps going, until you’re no longer sure what’s happening, who’s who, and even if the movie is going to follow the formula at all. It seems possible, for a few blissful minutes, that “Scream VI” could be nothing but one long, unpredictable single-night killing spree.
Instead, “Scream VI” eventually settles into a familiar rhythm, where old characters team up to save themselves and stop the killer, all the new characters are eyed with extreme suspicion, and everyone gets picked off one-by-one. Credit where credit is due, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett take great glee in those killings, and they have amped up the brutality in the “Scream” series.
Their films are more visceral — in that they show more viscera than Craven’s — but more than that, the Ghostface killers in these new movies seem infinitely more pissed off. They don’t just stab you, they go berserk about it.
The most interesting plot conceit of “Scream VI” is that unlike Sidney Prescott, who was hailed as a hero after surviving the events of “Scream,” Samantha Carpenter’s brush with fame has backfired. There’s now a vocal group of people who think she’s responsible for the previous film’s killings and that the actual murderers were framed. The last film centered itself on internet hysteria within toxic fandoms, and for a while “Scream VI” looks to have a similar ambition, to tackle the online mass furor that leads some people to ignore scads of evidence and support despicable men, to the point of vilifying anyone — especially women — who dare speak against them.
It’s a little disheartening to discover that “Scream VI” doesn’t do much with this notion after bringing it into the foreground, and eventually the pretense of the film having something serious on its mind falls through in favor of more (admittedly great) set pieces. It ends as all “Scream” movies must, with a prolonged altercation and a big reveal, and you’d think for all the effort the filmmakers put into making their opening kills so memorable they could put a little more effort into mixing up the formula in the final stretch, instead of resorting to the same climactic beats over and over. This film doesn’t fall apart at the end, but you do get a pretty good look at how ramshackle it’s been this whole time.
Still, after six movies, it’s hard to give the latest “Scream” movie serious demerits for being rather good, instead of being amazing. It’s not a bad sequel, it’s just not an impactful one. We get to know the so-called “Core Four” better than ever, and they’re fully solidifying themselves as the latest legacy leads in this series, with as much character and rooting interest as the originals, more or less. We get to see Courtney Cox return as Gale Weathers and make limp excuses for why Sidney Prescott couldn’t make it this time, which is the funniest meta-joke of all. And yes, we get some very, very brutal stabbings. These are all good things.
If this is as bad as the “Scream” movies get, then just keep screaming. With a little luck they’ll find something else worth screaming about eventually.