If Scream isn’t the best long-running horror franchise out there, it’s at least the most consistent. Wes Craven’s meta slasher series turned the genre upside down in 1996 and, while it hasn’t reached the highs of that first film with its subsequent entries, Scream has been a constant beacon of slasher quality in every decade since. That trend continues this week with the debut of Scream VI, the second entry from directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. Scream VI is an absolute blast, making good use of its New York City locale and delivering some of the most intense (and gruesome) sequences of the entire franchise.
Taking place about a year after the events of last year’s Scream, Scream VI sees sisters Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega) move to New York, distancing themselves from Woodsboro’s tragic history. Tara is attending college in the Big Apple, alongside close friends Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding), who also survived Ghostface’s latest massacre. Of course, outrunning the past is an impossible task, and Ghostface begins a new killing spree in New York, with their sights once again set on Sam.
One of the calling cards of the Scream series is its opening scenes. Nothing tops Drew Barrymore’s shocking demise in Craven’s 1996 masterpiece, but Scream VI is far and away the closest the franchise has come in the nearly 30 years since. Just when you think you have it figured out, the opener flips the script and goes in a completely different direction. It’s refreshing and hits you like a freight train right out of the gate.
The trailers for Scream VI show Ghostface using a shotgun in one scene and telling franchise stalwart Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) that he’s unlike any past Ghostface killer in another, hinting at a much more brutal version of the masked murderer in the newest installment. That was not false advertising — this is the goriest and most brutal Scream film to date. There are a few absolutely gnarly moments throughout this thing that will test the stomachs of some viewers, but they’re never without purpose. These young protagonists are out of their element, not far removed from the worst week of their lives, and this Ghostface pulls out all the stops to rattle them.
While the New York City setting could’ve just been a gimmick, Scream VI uses several of its calling cards to its advantage. The two most thrilling and impressive set pieces in the film (and maybe the entire franchise) could jhave only happened in a city like New York. A high-rise apartment is turned into a deadly tower with no conceivable way out. A subway train becomes a tomb, filled with masked strangers who could very well be cold-blooded killers. The move to New York was my biggest concern heading into Scream VI, but it wound up being one of the film’s greatest strengths.
The other major concern many Scream fans have been faced with is the absence of Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott. After receiving an offer from the studio that she felt didn’t match her contributions to the series, Campbell opted to pass on Scream VI. There’s no way to replace Sidney Prescott in Scream. Thankfully, the film never tries to.
Sam and Tara Carpenter are wonderful as the new leads of the franchise. Their relationship as sisters, and Sam’s roots as the daughter of Billy Loomis, brings a completely different dynamic to this new generation, setting them apart from the likes of Sidney, Gale, and Dewey. It helps, of course, that Barrera and Ortega deliver dynamite performances. Everyone in the expansive cast is great, which is to be expected in a Scream movie, though Ortega and Mason Gooding shine brighter than the rest in this installment. (It’s also wonderful to see Hayden Panettierre’s Kirby back in the fold, not missing a beat since 2011’s Scream 4.)
The themes and ideas being played with in Scream VI are tied very closely to the third-act twist and motive monologue, which have been staples of the Scream series since the beginning. To even dive into those themes would border on spoiler territory so I’ll steer clear from details entirely. The twist itself isn’t the most surprising we’ve seen in the franchise, but it is definitely satisfying when all is said and done.
No franchise like Scream has to constantly reinvent itself with meta narratives while also keeping direct connections to its original installments. As time goes on, that balancing act becomes more and more difficult, but these filmmakers have proven themselves more than up to the challenge. Scream VI is a mean, nasty, rollicking good time at the movies, just as Wes Craven always intended.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Scream VI opens in theaters on March 10th.