Scream VI (United States, 2023)

March 08, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Scream VI Poster

You know a franchise has exceeded its “sell by” date when all the titles seem to blur together and the newest installments seem like remakes of the older ones. That being said, Scream VI is possibly the most entertaining entry into the long-in-the-tooth franchise since the 1990s and represents a step up from last year’s sequel/reboot. Perhaps aware that the possibilities have dwindled for another serial killer romp through the small town of Woodboro, the filmmakers decided to move the action to New York City. But, like Jason Takes Manhattan, the possibilities are left mostly untapped. As has been the problem with recent Screams, the movie is undone by lazy writing, bad acting, and too much reliance on “meta” references.

Those who attend a Scream movie for the gore will find that, although Scream VI delivers the goods, it’s not as aggressive as some of the previous installments. Nevertheless, there are some good individual sequences. The prologue is different from what we have come to expect and features a nice twist on the formula. There’s a subway stalking that uses cross-cutting and lighting fluctuations to good effect. The body count is arguably on the low side and is comprised primarily of bystanders, in part because the main characters easily survive deep stab wounds.

At times, Scream VI is too in love with its own cleverness. This has always been the case with the Scream movies. In the first one, the “meta” elements – characters applying the “rules” of slasher films to real-life situations – allowed director Wes Craven to have fun with the genre. Over time, however, this has become an increasingly annoying distraction as characters pontificate about the similarities between movies and life in a slasher universe. I wrote the following in my review for 2022’s Scream and, if anything, it applies more to Scream VI than its immediate predecessor: “A little of this sort of thing goes a long way and there’s so much of it in the new Scream that it interferes with the viewer’s ability to suspend disbelief. It’s almost like having a running MS3K-type commentary in the background.”

The entirety of Scream VI transpires in the Big Apple, although it at times seems like just a bigger version of Woodboro (especially in terms of how law enforcement is handled – a serial killer on the loose in NYC would generate a tsunami of attention). After Samara Weaving plays the victim during the opening scene (with Roger Jackson once again providing the voice of Ghostface). We are then re-introduced to sisters Sam and Tara Carpenter (Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega, respectively) who, along with friends Mindy and Chad Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding), are attending a Manhattan university. Sam and Tara are sharing an apartment with Quinn Bailey (Liana Liberato), Mindy is with a new girlfriend, Anika (Devyn Nekoda), and Chad is rooming with the unprepossessing Ethan (Jack Champion). Meanwhile, Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), is on the air at Channel 4, while Sidney Prescott is nowhere to be seen, with Neve Campbell having decided to sit this one out. (Rumor is that she may be back for installment #7 if there is an installment #7.)

So what about the hole left by Campbell’s absence? Perhaps because the series has come to rely so heavily on an ensemble of underwritten characters, Sidney isn’t really missed. Her lack of importance is underscored by how easily she has been written out. Beyond her nostalgia value, Sidney is no longer critical to Scream (as is emphasized by one of the “franchise rules” spelled out during a “meta” scene). Outside of Jenna Ortega, whose star is in fast ascent with both X and “Wednesday” on her resume since her appearance in Scream 5, no one leaves a lasting impression. Melissa Barrera and Courteney Cox are noticeably lackluster. Along the way, Dermot Mulroney shows up (as seemingly the only homicide cop in New York), says a few lines, and collects his paycheck.

The whodunnit? aspect of Scream VI is as lame as in the other five Scream movies. Those in search of a real mystery reveal would do better looking elsewhere (the Law of Character Conservation alone narrows the range of suspects). One of the issues with Scream has always been the lack of the villain’s continuity with someone different always under the mask. “Ghostface” is a shifting alias, not an identity. It’s evident that co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and screenwriters James Vanderbilt & Guy Busick (who took over the series from Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson starting with Scream 5) have a vision for the series, although it’s at times difficult to determine what that might be beyond filling Paramount’s coffers. Scream VI offers two hours of fan service while serving up enough gore to appeal to many generic slasher/horror movie aficionados, but there’s not much beyond that.

Scream VI (United States, 2023)

Run Time: 2:02
U.S. Release Date: 2023-03-10
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Gore, Profanity)
Genre: Horror
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1