Although a bit of a let down when one considers the premise and strength of its most immediate predecessor in the long running horror franchise, Scream VI remains a bloody good time. It’s far from the best constructed entry in the series that revolves around big final act reveals and spooky voice modulated phone calls, and it also doesn’t make the best use out of a change in scenery, but the elements of a fun movie remain. It might be the second or third least impressive movie of the bunch (I don’t want to say “worst” because that would imply a level of badness the franchise never stooped to), but Scream VI makes the correct decision to incorporate plenty of mayhem in place of the smarts the franchise has previously thrived on.
It’s one year after the events of the “requel,” and once estranged sisters Sam and Tara Carpenter (Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega, respectively) have moved from suburban California to New York City for a stab at a new life. Sam has become extremely protective of her little sister – now a university student – but Tara just wants to live her life and move on from the past. This being a Scream movie, there’s a fat chance of that happening, and the gristly killings and ominous calls start anew.
In a decision that some might find inspired, while others (myself included) will see as a bit thin, Scream VI – once again directed by the Radio Silence tandem of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, working from another script by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick – doesn’t bend over backward to explain how things got to this point. There’s no real discussion as to why these people are in New York City, and even less about why their brother and sister best friends (Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown) have tagged along as protectors. If intrepid tabloid journalist Gale Weathers (played again by Courtney Cox as the only returning cast member to appear in every film) keeps popping back up, I guess it’s best to not ask too many questions about why anyone turns up anywhere in this series. Scream VI hits the ground running and doesn’t overthink anything.
That’s a double edged sword, because on one hand it can be seen as Olpin and Gillet slyly commenting on the ways franchises run out of ideas the longer they go on. It can also be viewed as precisely the thing Scream VI is trying to poke fun at. It’s obvious that even with a new batch of protagonists leading the series and a different setting, Scream VI bears all the hallmarks of a series that has run out of fresh ideas and targets to lampoon. Even the NYC setting is a bit of a let down, because outside of a couple of inspired set pieces (one on a crowded subway and the other in a bodega), Scream VI is never making the most of the opportunities afforded to it. There’s more mileage to be gotten out of the fact that Scream VI takes place during Halloween. It’s a movie that could take place anywhere in the world with a couple of minor tweaks, meaning the iconic city isn’t meshing entirely with the iconic franchise. Then again, maybe that’s the joke, as plenty of floundering franchises often use a change of setting to try and spice things up while offering viewers more of the same old, same old.
The plotting of Scream VI is wildly convenient and sometimes downright nonsensical, pretty much to the point of comedic contrivance. When characters are openly commenting on a regular basis that something seems too convenient to be true, one has to question if that’s laziness or by design, and the answer to what Scream VI is trying to accomplish is never clear. There are plenty of cool ideas and notions (especially a persistent thread about some characters being the victims of online conspiracy theories), but the script and direction seem sometimes at a loss in terms of how to implement them.
But that rather large negative is also a backhanded asset, as Scream VI is also the funniest and silliest effort in the franchise. That could be a result of this film’s chosen subgenre of horror to imitate. Instead of travelling down the road of 80s and 90s franchise slashers or modern day “elevated” horror, Olpin and Gillett look back to sleazy, cheesy, and highly stylized giallo movies. Horror junkies will immediately be able to identify what Olpin and Gillett are laying down, with references to grimy grindhouse classics like Maniac, New York Ripper, and Tenebrae coming early, most memorably in the opening sequence, which stands out as a true franchise high point.
Those movies were extreme in their brutality, sexuality, and misanthropy, but also often boasted their own sense of head scratching logic and over the top performances. (Dermot Mulroney, one of the new additions to the cast, playing a homicide detective, clearly understood the assignment and delivers a performance that’s an absolute hoot.) A modern day studio film like Scream VI could never hope to compete with independent productions often made overseas in the late 70s and early 80s, but the overall spirit is willing. It’s a good call to ditch some of the ickier and more problematic elements of giallo that wouldn’t fly with mainstream audiences, but it does retain a fair bit of the brutality. People don’t just die in Scream VI. They get absolutely obliterated.
By the time Scream VI reaches the big reveal the audience has been waiting for, it becomes clear that this has been one of those movies that takes one step backwards for every step it takes forwards. The reveal here is both obvious and still somehow head-scratchingly baffling to wrap one’s head around if they stop to think about the logistics of it for more than a few seconds. But the climactic showdown built around said reveal is highly entertaining and satisfying on a visceral and stylistic level. It’s a win-lose situation throughout Scream VI, but in the end it’s still a very entertaining movie that delivers the basic genre film necessities. It’s not one of the series entires I would be most likely to revisit any time soon, but on its own merits, there’s enough to like, even if the franchise is really running out of steam.
Scream VI opens in theatres everywhere Friday, March 10, 2023.
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