The fifth Scream movie was simply entitled Scream. So naturally, the next film is called… Scream VI. Well, at least the franchise is embracing its age by going back to the number system. It’s been almost 27 years since Ghostface asked Drew Barrymore what her favorite scary movie is. Although the series has seen changes since then, it’s impressively managed to avoid any reboots, remakes, or retcons. Granted, this film might be a sequel to a “requel,” but at least the continuity is straightforward. That’s more than virtually any other horror brand name can say.
While Scream VI possesses the mojo of a franchise half its age, there’s an undeniable sense of familiarity. Based on the poster and cast list, it’s not hard to guess who Ghostface’s first victim is going to be. Immediately after that, though, the film throws a welcome curveball. The filmmakers are well-aware that their audience has caught on to certain tropes. Although fans love these tropes, they become repetitive if you add nothing new to the equation. Scream VI brings just enough fresh blood to the formula. It could’ve brought more, but at least it doesn’t deviate too far from what made this series work in the first place. Looking at you Halloween Ends!
Among the most commendable updates is the change of scenery, moving from mayhem from Woodsboro to New York. Thankfully, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett make better use of the urban backdrop than Jason Takes Manhattan. Sidney Prescott sadly is a no-show since Neve Campbell wasn’t enticed by the studio’s asking price. Like Rocky in Creed III, her absence is unfortunate, but her presence isn’t mandatory. Melissa Barrera and especially Jenna Ortega have settled in nicely as Sam and Tara Carpenter, who’ve both relocated to the city. Also present are Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding as the Meeks-Martin twins, rounding out the “Core Four.” Hopefully you like the group name because this movie really wants to make it happen.
The Big Apple turns even redder when Ghostface resurfaces. The masked killer isn’t the only familiar face with Courteney Cox’s Gale serving as the sole legacy character. And yes, she wrote another book. Maybe it’s about time she started a podcast. The standout returning player is Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby, whose ambiguous fate in Scream IV is finally cleared up. She’s looking for Round 2 against Ghostface, this time armed with a gun and FBI badge. As one character points out, Panettiere is the youngest-looking authority figure since Agent Cody Banks. If you can get past her age, though, Panettiere makes a stellar comeback. She rounds out an incredibly likable group of characters you don’t want to see stabbed to death.
That said, Scream VI may like its characters too much. Without going into spoilers (for this film at least), there isn’t a death as unexpected as Randy in Scream 2 or Dewey in the previous film. Ghostface does deliver a respectable body count, though, with several brutal kills. The scale of New York is felt, but there’s still room for claustrophobic set pieces, a subway encounter being a highlight. The screenplay dishes the clever meta commentary that distinguished this series from the usual horror suspects. The performances are uniformly excellent as well. The story isn’t as ambitious as one might hope, and there are a few baffling choices, namely when one character is alienated from the group for no reason other than to put them in danger. Thanks to the new setting and returning fan favorites, however, there’s still enough to scream about.