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Spoilers for “Scream VI” abound in the article below – you’ve been warned.
In 2011, the fourth entry in the “Scream” series began with a Russian nesting doll of an opening sequence. By that point in the franchise, it had been well established that each new entry would begin with an extended scene in which at least one person wound up on the wrong end of a knife wielded by a mystery figure wearing a Ghostface mask and robe. But the fourth entry (the final one directed by the late Wes Craven) started with a sequence in which one young woman was killed … before revealing itself to be a movie within the movie, being watched by two young women. One of those women roundly criticized the quality of what they were watching only for her friend to kill her … and then reveal itself to be another movie within the movie. It was, in its own way, a moment where Craven and writer Kevin Williamson acknowledged that these films are a cinematic ouroboros, a snake eating itself, a meta riff on itself that can’t help but feel like yet another meta riff on itself.
Once the series got successfully revived last year with a new film simply titled “Scream,” it was no surprise that Paramount Pictures (having taken over for Dimension Pictures) would greenlight a new film, now called “Scream VI.” At first blush, the setup is almost aggressively simple: it’s a “Scream” movie set in New York City (the first entry taking place far away from California), wherein a Ghostface figure would run rampant in the Big Apple for reasons only truly revealed in the finale. But once you watch the movie, the setup is more than just the setting, and yet, quite inevitable in and of itself. Where the 2022 “Scream” was a legacyquel riff on the 1996 film of the same name, “Scream VI” is very much a legacyquel riff on “Scream 2,” for good and ill.
“Scream 2,” as you may recall, was set at college as Sidney Prescott tried and failed to move on from the horrors of the Woodsboro murders of the first film, with a new Ghostface killing all sorts of innocents as friends and frenemies like Randy, Gale Weathers, Deputy Dewey, and others were desperate to avoid winding up dead. “Scream VI,” despite its East Coast location, is set in college as Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) and her younger sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) try and fail to move on from the horrors of the Woodsboro murders of the previous film, with a new Ghostface killing all sorts of innocents as characters like Randy’s nephew and niece Chad and Mindy, and others, are desperate to avoid winding up dead.
A Family Affair
In “Scream 2,” it eventually was revealed that, as in the original, there were two Ghostface killers. In that sequel, it was the deranged mother of Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) and a film student aiding her in her quest for vengeance, portrayed respectively by Laurie Metcalf and Timothy Olyphant. In “Scream VI,” there is at least one novel twist: for the first time, there are three Ghostface killers. But as in “Scream 2,” it’s a family affair. The previous entry revealed that Sam’s boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) was secretly a hyperfan of the in-film franchise “Stab,” and was working with a fellow fan to create a new series of murders that would hopefully inspire better entries in that fictional series. This time, the various and sundry (and very gross) Ghostface murders are being committed by NYPD detective Bailey (Dermot Mulroney) and his two children (Liana Liberator and Jack Champion, fresh off playing Spider in “Avatar: The Way of Water”) … who just so happen to be Richie’s dad and siblings.
Getting that twist up front is the most appropriate thing to do. While “Scream VI” has scenes where the modern equivalent of Randy — his niece Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) — explains the rules not only of sequels, but of sequels to “requels” (the past film’s attempt to co-opt the previously discussed idea of legacyquels), it does not have the same edginess of “Scream 2.” Consider that in “Scream 2,” not very long after Randy explained to other characters, including the now-deceased Dewey, how horror sequels work, he was brutally murdered in broad daylight by Ghostface. “Scream VI” — once again directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, and written by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick — tiptoes against the edge of similarly visceral shock a few times here, but never goes all the way.
The new entry comes close to killing off a few established characters, but is unwilling to plunge the knife all the way. Mindy and Chad each are attacked brutally in the back half of the film; the attack sequence with Mindy, taking place on Halloween night on a crowded subway car, is fairly effective in the moment but loses its edge once it becomes clear that she’s going to pull through. Both she and Chad seem to have remarkable healing powers; the latter is attacked in a dilapidated movie theater-turned-“Stab” shrine and stabbed … a lot, but also survives to the final moments, so that he can have a brief reunion with the other characters, who he’s dubbed “the Core Four,” including his love interest Tara.
Last year’s “Scream” did have one notable death, of course: that of Dewey, as David Arquette returned to play the same role Harrison Ford did as Han Solo in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” essentially passing the torch to the younger generation and being killed in the process. That film’s much-debated follow-up, “The Last Jedi” (referenced in “Scream” in its own way), removed Luke Skywalker from the equation in a late surprise that devastated fans aplenty. “Scream VI” comes very close to killing off its sole on-screen legacy character, Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). (Gale, it should be noted, is tasked with explaining why Sidney Prescott is not in the film, and the explanation is as silly as the possibility that Paramount Pictures didn’t do everything in its power to convince Neve Campbell to return.) Gale has her first encounter with a Ghostface killer on the phone and is then attacked, and would seem to have bit the big one in an extended attack in her Upper West Side condo, but … well, by the end of the film, Mindy quickly tells us and the rest of the Core Four that Gale is going to be fine.
The Core Four
So where does that leave us? It’s not as if “Scream VI” is lacking in deaths nor in a few other surprises. The most intriguing one comes in the opening sequence, as we meet a beautiful Australian film professor (Samara Weaving) talking on the phone to her blind date before she’s viciously stabbed in a NYC alleyway by a Ghostface killer … who then reveals themselves instantly, as a film student played by Tony Revolori. For a few short minutes, it seems as though this “Scream” might go the way of a different kind of mystery, a la “Columbo” wherein we find out who the killer before anyone else does. Alas, before the lengthy opening is over, Revolori’s character — who had been planning with his roommate a carnage against his classmate Tara and her older sister Sam — is killed by another Ghostface, whose final words to Revolori are “Who gives a f**** about movies?”
That implied edginess, though, seeps away fairly quickly, as the Core Four are presented with more and more attacks at characters on the periphery of their lives. There’s Sam’s therapist (Henry Czerny); Mindy’s love interest Anika (Devyn Nekoda); and Sam and Tara’s cheerfully guy-happy roommate Quinn (Liberato), who … of course turns out to not be dead at all. And there are red herrings, such as returning favorite Kirby (Hayden Panettiere), an FBI agent who Bailey warns Sam as being an off-the-books loose cannon … before Bailey reveals his true colors. Vanderbilt and Busick’s script tries to explore the nastiness of online culture seeping into the real world, as we learn how many people seem to believe Sam was the true master of last year’s Ghostface killings, and that Richie was the patsy. But it’s only a surface-deep exploration amidst the blood and guts. Just as there are red herrings, there are plot holes so large you could shove a Ghostface mask through. Why, for example, would Bailey be on a Ghostface case when his own son had been involved in one? (Seems like a mild conflict of interest!) Why would we see Bailey tell a fellow NYPD cop to investigate Kirby when Sam and Tara are not onscreen (and thus would have no reason to presume Kirby’s not on the up and up)? And why would one of the Ghostface killers leave Mindy for dead on the subway as opposed to straight-up killing her?
The answer to the latter is hinted at in how often Chad tries to get his fellow Woodsboro natives to describe themselves as the Core Four. The previous entries in the franchise had Sidney, Gale, and Dewey. But now, there’s just Sidney and Gale, and the shaky way in which the latter is incorporated into this story implies that the writers struggled to keep the legacy alive. If these films are going to continue, they need new blood, and someone has decided that it can’t just be Sam and Tara. But while “Scream VI” is well-made on the surface, and gratuitously gory enough to feel like it belongs in the greater franchise, it’s less willing to make the hard choices of having a killer who kills characters who are meant to matter. “Scream VI” edges up to the line of true viscera, but it doesn’t want to follow through.
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