‘Scream VI’ Review: New City, New Rules for Famed Slasher Franchise

I swear, we are two “Scream” films away from them going to outer space.

“Scream VI” is the latest installment of the long-running slasher franchise, and the second to be directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett after last year’s requel (a reboot/sequel hybrid). The film again follows Sam and Tara Carpenter (Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega), who have moved to New York City only to be hunted by a new Ghostface killer. Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Hayden Panettiere, and Courteney Cox all reprise their roles from previous installments, while Jack Champion, Henry Czerny, Liana Liberato, Dermot Mulroney, Devyn Nekoda, Tony Revolori, Josh Segarra, and Samara Weaving join the cast.

“Scream” is one of (if not the) favorite film franchises of mine, and I very much enjoyed last year’s installment (so much so it made my 2022 Top 10 list). I was a bit reluctant that we would be getting a sixth film so soon (part of what made the 4th and 5th films so great is they had a decade between installments to observe the changing scene of horror films), and still think they need to pump the breaks a little after this one. Nevertheless, “Scream VI” is a movie made by and for fans of the series, with gnarly kills and some meta commentary (“the rules”) to keep things moving along.

One of the complaints people had about “Scream” (2022) was Melissa Barrera’s somewhat stilted leading performance, and I think she does a vastly better job here. There are lots of themes about grief, battling inner demons, and the importance of making your own family, and Barrera is at the center of all that. Maybe to her hinderance, she is forced to be the brooding and bossy lead who is surrounded by an incredibly charming trio of Jenna Ortega (whose star exploded between the last film and now, thanks to Netflix’s “Wednesday”), Mason Gooding, and Jasmin Savoy Brown. The three each get scenes to charm and provide chuckles, and remain the true heart of this most-recent collection of “Scream” films.

Returning are Courtney Cox (the only actor to appear in all six films, along with the voice of Ghostface, Roger L. Jackson) and, more notably, Hayden Panettiere (from 2011’s “Scream 4”). They are both largely torch-passing roles, but their presence is still very much welcome. Each of the newcomer actors, like Barrera, gets outshined by the central group, though it was fun to see Samara Weaving in a “Scream” movie after years of fans wishing for it. Franchise star and Scream Queen Neve Campbell, who had been front and center in the previous five entries, is absent due to pay disputes and while I missed her, you don’t really miss Sidney’s presence too much and I appreciate the film for not forcing her character in (or out) of the story; the same person can only be involved in so many serial killings before it becomes annoyingly absurd.

The kills are bloodier than ever, which for people who go to slashers to see cannon fodder is a treat. Several Ghostface attacks made me chuckle or feel a devilish smile crawl on my face, and it’s commendable to directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick that they can come up with creative and original set pieces this deep into a franchise that, at its core, is simply about a masked killer with a knife.

Unlike the previous entry, there are a few sequences that rely more on tension rather than just violence, including a claustrophobic subway scene and one involving heights that made my palms sweaty. The fresh setting of New York City (opposed to a small California town) also adds some new flair and flavor, and when they eventually make a 7th of these things I hope they continue to explore new cities (and have it take place during Christmas??).

There are some pacing issues in the first act (between the opening kill and the next Ghostface attack is a lot of catch-up and introductions), and I imagine the third act will be divisive for audiences. I obviously won’t say why, but the climax is absolutely bonkers, and you just have to lean into it. If you try and poke holes in the logic or practicality, you’ll probably hate it; if you embrace the sheer unhinged nature of the reveal and nods to previous films, it’s a hoot.

“Scream VI” falls somewhere in the middle of my rankings of the series (above 2000’s “Scream 3,” a film I find stupid fun but is universally accepted as the franchise’s black sheep), but that doesn’t mean that it’s soon to be forgotten. I am very open with my love of the “Scream” films so take this review and subsequent score with a grain of salt, but I think if you enjoyed the previous films (and even if you were lukewarm on 2022’s) then this is just more bloody fun. The final act is such a nod to “Scream” fans and so over-the-top silly that I’m giving the film an extra point, so do with all this info as you will!

Critics Rating: 8/10

Paramount Pictures

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