Directors Tyler Gillet and Matt Bettinielli-Olpin, aka Radio Silence, are back with a follow-up to 2022’s “Scream,” the fifth film in the horror franchise that served as a reboot and sequel, aptly referred to as a “requel.” Sam (Melissa Barrera) and her half-sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) are back to remind everyone that Latinas > Ghostface. They are joined by fellow survivors the Meeks-Martin twins, Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding), together the group calls themselves “The Core Four.” Apart from a couple of standout scenes and amped-up violence, expect business as usual.
It took seven films before Jason took Manhattan in the “Friday the 13th” franchise. Ghostface does it in six (sort of). “Scream VI” was shot in Montreal and apart from the subway scene, the story could take place in several metropolitan cities. There is also a tense moment in a bodega to ground the film to the Big Apple, but it could easily be a small grocery store in Chicago. The film’s marketing highlights the NYC location, but you’re not going to see Ghostface trolling Times Square, Central Park, or Ray’s Pizza. Darn.
The reason for the move from Woodsboro, California to New York City is so Tara can attend the fictional Blackmore University along with twins Mindy and Chad while Sam blends in with the masses hoping to get away from all the negative attention directed at her after the legacy killings. Guilty by heritage in the public’s eye since Sam is the daughter of original “Scream” killer Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) who keeps appearing to Sam as a hallucination urging her to embrace her inherited dark side.
When you think of slasher films, the shower scene from Hitchcock’s “Psycho” with Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane remains the genre’s most iconic moment. There are several references to the film in “Scream VI” including a shot of the movie poster and the opening scene featuring Samara Weaving whose character (Laura Crane) shares the last name of Hitchcock’s protagonist. Weaving previously worked with Radio Silence on 2019’s “Ready or Not” as did Henry Czerny who also has a cameo in the film as a shrink who’s not equipped to handle Sam’s problems.
You can’t have a “Scream” movie without Roger L. Jackson providing the pivotal Ghostface voice. Throughout the franchise, different killers wearing the Edvard Munch-inspired mask have had one thing in common, a Ghostface voice changer. Now anyone on TikTok can be the killer thanks to the new text-to-speech feature.
Within a few minutes, the film’s first killing takes place. Once it hits the news (those funny segments never mirror actual breaking news telecasts), The Core Four realize they are now in a “franchise” thanks to horror buff Mindy, the reboot series’ stickler for the rules. At this point, the filmmakers could probably do away with the “rules” concept relating to the movie-within-a-movie premise that fuels the franchise as this new generation of moviegoers would be satisfied with just someone wearing the mask and using the voice. When director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson (credited now as Executive Producer) collaborated on the 1996 original, the concept was clever and well executed. Unfortunately, after six films it feels diluted and unnecessary. Forget sequels, requels, and legacies, just concentrate on the killer or killers’ motives.
There are some new faces joining the lineup to raise the audience’s suspicion. However, part of the franchise’s fun is the fact that anyone can be a suspect. Jack Champion (“Avatar: The Way of Water”) plays Chad’s roommate Ethan, who doesn’t want to die a virgin. Liana Liberato joins the cast as Quinn, a student at Blackmore and roommate of Sam and Tara. Her father NYPD detective Wayne Bailey (veteran actor Dermot Mulroney) leads the investigation into the new round of Ghostface killings. Josh Segarra joins the cast as Danny, a love interest for Sam and a possible suspect. I hoped for more interaction between Danny and The Core Four, but he’s treated as an outsider and not allowed to play in any reindeer, er, Ghostface games.
Of course, we have a couple of legacy characters returning including investigative reporter and author Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), and in a welcomed surprise move, Hayden Panettiere from “Scream 4” returns as survivor Kirby Reed who is now the story’s Clarice Starling; she plays the FBI agent in charge of the Ghostface killings. Neve Campbell’s protagonist Sidney Prescott is MIA after negotiations broke down between the actress and producers. In the film, Gale explains that Sidney took her family to a safe location after learning about the NYC murders.
Writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick who penned 2022’s reboot, hash out a solid sequel to last year’s film. Moving the story to NYC is refreshing, although wasted except for the film’s two best moments. The first is the bodega where Ghostface stalks Sam and Tara while wielding a shotgun. It’s tense, realistic, and I wanted more scenes just like it throughout the film.
The best moment in “Scream VI” is the subway scene aboard the 1 Train. Radio Silence has fun with the scene and so will the audience. It’s Halloween so the train is filled with people in costumes including Ghostface, Pinhead, The Babadook, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, someone wearing Florence Pugh’s flower dress from “Midsommar” and the actual costume from David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” featuring the butcher’s apron and gloves worn by Debbie Harry. It’s scary and tense, beautifully shot by cinematographer Brett Jutkiewicz who worked on “The Black Phone.” Did I see The Grabber on the 1 Train?
“Scream VI” amps up the violence. The stabbings are brutal and very bloody. The setting for the finale is a nice touch but the big twist is a letdown that seems implausible even in the anything-goes “Scream” universe.
Despite its flaws, I was entertained and had a good time. Tyler Gillet and Matt Bettinielli-Olpin generate authentic tension and the cast is first-rate. Several times the story gets farfetched, but at this juncture, it’s expected. Maybe for the seventh film the survivors of “Scream VI” will now be successful authors after penning a book titled, “How to survive being stabbed multiple times,” which would have come in handy for any character in a “Halloween” film.
Now showing in theaters