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When news came out last year that Neve Campbell walked away from starring in “Scream 6,” people were understandably angry and concerned. Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott is widely considered the face of the franchise; she’s one of the most iconic final girls of all time, so the idea that the people running the franchise would try to lowball her reeks of either sexism or incompetence, or potentially both.
But for long-term fans of the series, those of us who love the sequels just as much as the original, the news was a little more complicated. Sidney is still a beloved character, of course, but part of why she’s so beloved is because the series gave her a complete, satisfying character arc in the original trilogy. They gave her a happy ending in “Scream 3,” and as crazy as things got in Screams 4 and 5, the writers never messed with that. Sidney got to start a family with Mark Kinkaid (Patrick Dempsey) and the series has never gone down the easy route of having a new killer go after her husband or kids. This is for the best: if you really love Sidney, you wouldn’t want to trap her in an endless cycle of losing everyone she loves, one by one.
The Problem With Sidney
Although the exact circumstances of Neve Campbell’s departure from the series are messy and disappointing, it’s worth remembering that the writers aren’t the ones in charge of paying her, and that by the sound of it, Sidney wasn’t going to be a major presence in “Scream 6” anyway. Now that we’ve seen the final product, it’s hard to imagine how the movie could’ve included her without cluttering up the plot or underserving the new generation of characters who still need to prove themselves. “Scream 6” may not be a perfect movie by any stretch, but the lack of Sidney definitely isn’t an issue. If anything, it’s a little refreshing.
As nice as it was to have Sidney back in “Scream” (2022), for instance, her presence did sort of kill the movie’s sense of tension. It was obvious that Sidney wasn’t going to die, because the writers knew damn well that fans would riot if they killed her. If Sidney is going to die, she’s going to do so in a movie where she’s the main focus, where we get a whole movie to say farewell; she’s not going to die in a movie where she doesn’t show up until nearly halfway through, where the focus is largely on a new generation of characters. That would just feel disrespectful to too many fans.
An Impossible Balancing Act
So because Sidney couldn’t die in “Scream 5,” this inevitably led to a cluttered final act where you could see the writers struggling to balance everything. On one hand, the writers needed to keep the focus on Sam and Tara, as they’re the new main characters that this new trilogy is centered around. But on the other hand, the final act also couldn’t completely ignore Gale and Sidney and needed to make sure they both had something substantial to do. But they also needed to awkwardly justify why Gale and Sidney couldn’t take down Richie and Amber on their own, while also keeping them both alive. “Scream 5” had a lot of things it needed to do at once, and the movie suffered trying to juggle it all.
The worst effect of all this is the way it harms the character arcs of the new cast. In the original “Scream,” the climax featured a Sidney who was now completely on her own, trapped in the kitchen with two killers. When Sam got her own version of this situation in “Scream 5,” she had Gale and Sidney right next to her, not to mention Tara in the other room. Thanks to the presence of the legacy characters, Sam’s survival ended up feeling a lot less impressive. She received so much extra help that the original cast never got.
A Less Cluttered Scream 6
The inclusion of the legacy characters in “Scream 5” — and the writers’ obligation to give them all something meaningful to do — also inevitably led to the rest of the new characters being shortchanged. Mindy and Chad, two characters who’d become part of the Core Four in the next film, only had a handful of minutes of screentime between them. The original “Scream” had time to flesh out Sidney’s group of friends so that their deaths and killer reveals would have a real impact; Scream 5 didn’t. Randy, Billy, Stu, and Tatum were constant presences throughout the original, whereas in Scream 5, long stretches of time flew by where we didn’t see any of Tara’s friends at all.
This is likely why “Scream 6” seems so hesitant to kill off any of the Core Four: considering we’ve barely gotten to know most of them in the first film, it would be a little premature to kill them off here. This isn’t like “Scream 2” where characters like Dewey, Gale, and Randy were all well-established from the start; “Scream 6” understands that Tara, Chad, and Mindy were all shortchanged in their debut film, and it wants to make up for all that lost time. A Randy-style killing of one of the survivors from Scream 5 wouldn’t have worked here, because it’s only after this latest film that the non-Sam members of the Core Four have developed the same sort of familiarity with audiences that Randy had.
In other words, “Scream 6” is the series making up for all the extra time it had to spend on the legacy characters in “Scream 5.” Here, the only legacy character to deal with is Gale, and she already fits in organically with the New York setting.
So, What About Scream 7?
Throughout Screams 5 and 6, there’s been a suspicious amount of exposition about Sam and Tara’s unseen mother. We’ve still never met the woman, but we know she had a relationship with Billy Loomis in high school and she’s now cut both her daughters out from her life; it would be strange if “Scream 7” didn’t finally introduce her after all this buildup. If they’re going to include Sidney in this next film, having her storyline be involved with Sam’s mom somehow would probably be the most natural way to do it. These two characters have a history of sorts, one that the next movie could explore.
But overall, “Scream 7” should primarily be focused on the Core Four, not Sidney. Sidney’s family should not be attacked, nor should anything happen to her in a way that would undermine her ending from “Scream 3” in any way. If they ever do decide to have Sidney’s family be the victims of a round of Ghostface killings, they should save such a storyline for a later film, one that’s entirely centered around Sidney. If Sidney’s life is upheaved in a major way, that storyline shouldn’t be integrated into a movie that’s mostly about Sam and Tara.
If the latest entry has taught us anything, however, it’s that Sidney is no longer strictly necessary for a “Scream” film to be good. She’s an iconic, beloved character, but she’s also a character whose story has already been concluded in a satisfying manner. Before the writers bring her back, they should make sure they have a truly good reason for doing so first.
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