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The kids are back, and so is the masked murderer that hunts them. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s (aka Radio Silence) newest chapter in the “Scream” franchise finds the latest generation of Woodsboro survivors setting up a new life in New York City, far away from the suburban shadow of Ghostface. Unfortunately, their peace is short-lived. This is, after all, “Scream VI.”
The movie opens with the killing of a film professor, and as the body count quickly escalates, Samantha Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), her sister, Tara (Jenna Ortega), and twins Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding) prepare to escape, but they’re not fast enough for this new Ghostface. Joined by other returning characters Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) as well as a slew of newcomers including Anika (Devyn Nekoda), Josh (Danny Brackett), Ethan (Jack Champion), Quinn (Liana Liberato), and Detective Bailey (Dermot Mulroney), the newly minted “core four” will have to face off against the killer(s) once again, this time in the heart of the Big Apple.
As far as “Scream” sequels go, we’ve seen worse, but the wear and tear of the years are showing on Ghostface’s mask. The script is serviceable but surface-level, bringing up interesting ideas but never following though on them. The movie mentions trauma and how characters cope early on, but those concerns almost immediately evaporate when the nightly news announces the first murders. Aside from horror nerd sight gags like costumes from other scary movies in the background and Easter egg references to horror directors and movie podcasts, “Scream VI” doesn't have much to say about horror fandom itself—which in the case of this movie, turns extremely toxic and deadly. While Wes Craven’s original “Scream” was the first in the series to poke fun at the genre’s tropes, these latest installments have doubled down on the meta explanation of horror movie rules without much of a point. By now, they’re almost for comedic effect, an “if you know, you know” reference for the audience to nod and laugh in recognition, not much for cutting-edge meta-commentary. Dare I say, that’s been done to death.
Guy Busick and James Vanderbilt’s script runs out of steam, but between the first kill and the movie’s climatic showdown, there are a number of suspenseful set pieces where Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett prove there’s still some life left in the series. In one standout moment, Ghostface tracks the group to where Sam, Tara, and Quinn live. He picks off a few, but a trio manages to barricade themselves in a room and, with the help of a lovestruck neighbor and a ladder, now have a chance to climb across to safety. The tension is perfectly executed, the kind of sequence that makes a person hold their breath to see if all poor souls pull through. Another moment occurs when one of the main characters finds themselves staring at Ghostface, looking at her in a crowded train, and is helpless to defend herself. The feeling of being targeted in plain sight is effectively chilling and haunting.
However, one name sorely missing from this cast is none other than franchise regular Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). Cambell said she didn’t receive a financial offer adequate enough for her return, and in a movie that worships its own lore, missing this significant piece of the series feels like a misstep. In Campbell’s absence, Cox enjoys more of the spotlight, finally getting a call from Ghostface and fighting another round with the killer. But the biggest breakout star of the new incarnation of “Scream” movies remains Jenna Ortega, whose smudged mascara and sharp one-liners jolt every scene she’s in with electricity. This time, she’s given a few good chances to land some solid punches and kicks, a change from the last movie, where she spent most of the runtime fairly wounded.
In a shocking twist, the most disappointing appearance is New York City itself, which perhaps has the distinction of being the least convincing version of NYC this side of Vancouver. With Montreal playing dress up as New York, it's hard to look past alleyways that don’t exist or the made-up stops that cover for other well-known locations, like Blackmore College in lieu of Brooklyn College at the end of the 2 and 5 lines. While the filmmakers utilize certain aspects of the city—like a bodega confrontation with Ghostface, and apartments facing each other for a little “Rear Window” suspense scene—other parts felt detached from the city, with no sense of the skyline or place, disorienting this New Yorker. Even out-of-towners might notice a few missing major landmarks otherwise present in other movies.
As far as sequels go, “Scream VI” is a strange, self-referential beast, a snake eating its own tail with nothing left. What will it take to give it fresh blood and move forward? For now, we have a horror movie that tickles a nostalgic funny bone, a chiller with some good scares and cheesy lines that earn more laughter than screams, and yes, a snippet of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand.” I don’t begrudge anyone who seeks the simple pleasures of an old-fashioned slasher; I was just hoping for a little more meat to go with the movie’s buckets of blood.
Now playing only in theaters.
Melissa Barrera as Sam Carpenter
Jenna Ortega as Tara Carpenter
Jasmin Savoy Brown as Mindy Meeks-Martin
Mason Gooding as Chad Meeks-Martin
Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers
Hayden Panettiere as Kirby Reed
Dermot Mulroney as Detective “Wayne” Bailey
Liana Liberato as Quinn Bailey
Jack Champion as Ethan Landry
Devyn Nekoda as Anika Kayoko
Josh Segarra as Danny Brackett
Samara Weaving as Laura Crane
Tony Revolori as Jason Carvey