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SCREAM VI (2023) review

March 16, 2023


written by: James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick
produced by: William Sherak, James Vanderbilt and Paul Neinstein
directed by: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
rated: R (for strong bloody violence and language throughout, and brief drug use)
runtime: 123 min.
U.S. release date: March 10, 2023


A year ago last January, a new Scream movie dropped after an eleven year hiatus, lazily called “Scream” in an effort to claim not so much a reboot, since it technically didn’t clean the slate and restart anything. The movie had the iconic Ghostface killer back and requisite characters that were, once again, all-knowing when it comes to horror movie tropes…AND it included some longstanding characters that have been in all of the movies from the Scream machine, so it was less of a requel and more of a legacyquel.

That’s a term originated by film critic Matt Singer where legacy characters return in a new installment of a popular franchise while introducing new characters. “Star Wars” and “Halloween” did it with sequel trilogies, and now we have “Scream VI”, which is bound to be the midpoint of a new trilogy for these slasher flicks that are heavy on the meta.

Last year’s entry became a huge hit, despite its debatable critical success. Nevertheless, Paramount Pictures fast tracked a sequel in the wake of the movie’s successful box office run. The cast and crew spent last summer shooting “Scream VI”, with screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick and directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have understandably returning, picking up right where they left off. New characters, Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) and her younger half-sister, Tara (Jenna Ortega), are now trying to move on with their lives after the horrific Woodsboro Legacy murderers. The sequel doesn’t break the mold, knowing full well that with the Scream movies, it’s better to embrace the mold as “more of the same”, in this case just relocating to a different location.



Like “Scream 2”, the group of new protagonists, mostly high school age, who survived the last movie – Tara, along with friends, Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding) – are now attending college together in New York City. Sam also lives in the Big Apple, wanting to stay within close proximity to Tara after what they experienced together has left her in a naturally protective and paranoid state. She sees therapist, Dr. Stone (Henry Czerny), in an effort to deal with her past and move forward, while Tara has chosen to completely move on, block out what’s happened and just be a college student at fictional Blackmore University.

Of course, a knife-wielding Ghostface killer arrives in the big city and Sam is triggered into super protective mode, seeing her greatest fears realized. But Sam and Tara and her two pals aren’t the only ones in danger. As it is in just about any horror flick, anyone in association with the slasher’s main targets are in peril. So, not only are the “Core Four” (as Chad amusingly calls them) in danger, but by so are Tara’s new college friends who will also become suspects by the franchise’s movie rules. That includes Tara’s roommate, Quinn Bailey (Liana Liberato), whose father, Wayne Bailey (Dermot Mulroney) is conveniently a local detective, and then there’s strange quit guy, Ethan Landry (Jake Champion, last seen as Spider in “Avatar: The Way of Water”), a roommate of Chad’s, and lastly there’s Anika Kayoko (Devyn Nekoda), the girlfriend of Mindy. Oh, I almost forgot, there’s also hot neighbor dude, Danny (John Segarra), a love interest for Sam, who is there just to be a potential suspect. All of these new ancillary characters automatically are either victims or suspects, by the standards of all horror movies that have come before “Scream VI”, but especially by the standards of what we’ve seen in the previous “Scream” installments.

One more character is hilariously added to the mix in obvious eye-roll fashion and is someone no die-hard Scream fan thought they’d see again. That’s right, Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere), another Woodsboro massacre survivor is miraculously back, only now she’s an F.B.I. Agent that sorta kinda specializes in a certain slasher killer. Kirby can be considered a legacy character I suppose, but not as much as Courtney Cox‘s annoyingly persistent, Gayle Weathers, the former talk show host, author, and reporter. This means Cox has been in every Scream movie as Weathers, making her last name quite fitting…or maybe not? (Let’s just say this second film in this new trilogy – “Scream VII” hasn’t been greenlit, but c’mon – has a striking resemblance to how the Star Wars sequel trilogy treated its legacy characters). It doesn’t help that one of these characters has a painfully lame red herring presence.

Neither of these two returning characters can be taking off the ongoing list of potential Ghostface killers. That’s right, just like a couple of other Scream movies (including the last one), this one two Ghostface slashers in it! Some viewers might not catch that right away, but if you’re paying any attention to the physicality of these killers, it’s glaringly noticeable and kind of unbelievable (also, like the last one).



At this point in the franchise, Scream movies have dual-meta qualities. The first movie and its two sequels were a clever and fun look at the tropes of slasher flicks. “Scream 3” may have been the weakest, but screenwriter Kevin Williamson managed to establish and build off of the idea that teenage horror movie know-it-alls were self aware in a violent and self aware horror movie directing by horror master Wes Craven (“The Hills Have Eyes” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street”). With “Scream V” and now “Scream VI” (the first sequels in the series that tries to use roman numerals in a clever manner in marketing that just can’t be similarly translated on a marquee), Mindy is now the character who is the master of horror tropes and has great monologues extrapolating how, all that has and is about to, transpired related to Ghostface falls in line with how things typical play out in slasher flicks.

But, the eye-rolling bit of it all, is that the characters in the Scream movies always seem to be talking about the same things and ultimately wind up doing the same things. In a way, certain expectations that fans have for these movies are comfort food, in the same manner that most Bond movies adhered to certain tropes (at least before the Daniel Craig installments). Just as its typical for Bond movies to open up with an a stand-alone action scene that may or may not be related to the storyline that will follow after the opening credits, each Scream movie typically opens up with a cold-blooded cold open kill (at least from what I can recall). That’s not to say such an opening grows tiresome. It can actually be what many viewers look forward to.

Writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick know what the expectations are and at least in this sequel, they start off by subverting what we expect in quite an intense manner. A woman (Australian actress Samara Weaving, who has developed her own path in the genre with movies like “Mayhem” and “Ready or Not”) waits for her date in a New York city bar. When she starts getting texts from the guy she is supposed to meet – someone she hasn’t met in person yet (red flag!) – that he’s running late, she then gets a phone call from him. This is funny because no one talks on the phone anymore and Ghostface is known for starting off his first kills on the phone with his victim. Another funny part is how ironic the woman’s profession is…she’s an assistant professor at Blackmore University, with an emphasis in analyzing slasher flicks. Nice. While we know where this particular opening sequence is going, there is a surprising reveal unlike any other Scream movie that deserves a “most impressive” nod.

Sadly, the opening is around where the originality ends for “Scream VI”. It’s always interesting and kind of a thrill to try to figure out the mystery of Ghostface, but this one seemed way too obvious as soon as certain characters were introduced and that takes the whole suspense out of it…at least for me.

It should be noted that directors Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett shot the movie in Montreal, Canada, which makes sense since none of the locations had an overtly New York City feel to them. With all the talk of “Scream VI” being “so different” because its set in NYC, the fact that it’s obvious that it’s not is a letdown. As horror sequels set in the Big Apple, this has a very “Jason Takes Manhattan” vibe, unfortunately. The location is definitely not a character here.

Granted, probably the most exciting set piece is a subway car sequence in which one antagonist gets separated from the group and finds herself in a car during Halloween (of course) with a bunch of passengers wearing Ghostface masks. This should be an edgy part of the movie and thanks to Savoy Brown’s portrayal of Mindy, it mostly is, however the editorial decisions predicts way too much and winds up feeling like so many other scenes on subway trains in horror flicks. Again, too meta for it’s own good.



By the time the unnecessarily long sequel gets to its third act, the whole thing just gets tiring and ridiculous. There’s a revelation that the killer(s) somehow made a shrine to all the past Ghostface killings in an old abandoned theater. That’s right, there are glass cases filled with Easter Egg memorabilia from all the other movies, which just pulled me out of the film to wonder how these Ghostfaces curated this mini-con to the Westboro killings, not to mention the question of how long it took them (especially once you know who the killers are). The whole thing left me with a “Wait WHAT?” feeling instead of a “WHOA, wait!” response.

Despite all that, it does help that the Core Four are still fun to follow. Just like how these characters were introduced in the last film and gradually became quite engaging, thanks to the actors playing them. Probably due to her popularity last year, Ortega’s Tara has a welcome larger presence here and her chemistry with Barrera has only strengthened since “Scream V”. While these actors can’t save “Scream VI” from the weakly convenient Scooby-Doo ending, it still left me open to one more with these characters (and also so Neve Campbell can come back and be killed off).

Unfortunately, “Scream VI” goes out of its way to connect characters in an all too convenient manner, making the whole thing feel like a horror version of “It’s a Small World After All”. It’s being marketed as the goriest yet, but that was never a reason to check out any of these movies. It became all about the characters that we wanted to hang out with again, not kills topping kills or stale suspicions and monologuing villains.

It still baffles me how some of these characters survive so. much. stabbing…which reminds me of a scene from, of all things, “Fast 9”, in which an enlightened Tyrese Gibson’s character acknowledges to his fellow “family” members how miraculous it is that they’ve been able to survive all their near-death encounters, holding up his jacket that’s riddled with recent bullet holes and positing how there must be some way they’re survived. Well, it looks like the Scream franchise is in danger of aligning itself with the never-ending “Fast and the Furious” series. If you’re in doubt, just look at the character collage poster for this movie and the upcoming “Fast X” movie, also embracing roman numerals.






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