Woodsboro. You can move away from it, but you can’t escape its history. Roughly six months after the new Ghostface murders followed the original ones 25 years prior, its survivors have left the town in their rearview mirrors. Sisters Samantha (Melissa Barrera) and Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) along with siblings Chad (Mason Gooding) and Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) have moved to New York City for a fresh start. Tara, Chad and Mindy all attend the same college, while Sam works two low-end jobs as she continuously does her best to manage living with her troubled lineage.
Together, they are the “Core Four.” It isn’t long before trouble finds the Core Four again. Three murders in rapid succession are courtesy of another Ghostface, and of course, Ghostface is always out to settle some scores, manufactured or not. Whether they be with the Core Four, longstanding investigative journalist Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), or a cast of new individuals now in the orbit, no one is safe from a Ghostface who is…something different.
I joked in last year’s thoughts on Scream (5) that with all the bad juju in Woodsboro, it’s a surprise the city still has denizens and hasn’t been nuked into space. In a franchise that’s been built on the metaness of it all both in its movie universe and outside of it, it made a bit of sense on why over half of the installments prior take place there. Yet if there were a time to leave Woodsboro behind, and from the looks of it, for good, it would be Scream VI. It does play in the stylistic shadow of Scream 2 in areas, but that isn’t a bad thing, especially when it does a lot of things before that to feel like its own thing.
The Radio Silence duo of Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin return to bring Scream through the 2020’s. Last year’s effort felt very much a clear homage to series creator Wes Craven. There’s nothing totally wrong with that, but it did leave the movie in a nebulous ether between being frozen in the past and trying to push into the future. And while some easter egg nods from a visual perspective and a plot perspective exist—mainly tipping to Scream 2, Scream VI feels like their effort to bring their own identity within the Scream framework, if that makes sense.
The duo cleverly play into subversions only to slash them apart, most easily seen in its opening setup scene, doing a great job at establishing this new environment. It rolls over to other moments through the runtime, including a bodega and subway setpiece (probably spoiled a bit too much in marketing) that play well into the idea that Ghostface in the perpetually cramped Big Apple could and would be pretty tense. In totality, Scream VI is the most consistently tense Scream since the second. Not nightmare-inducing, but actual moments that will put many in the audience on edge, which is actually really surprising for a modern slasher. The body count (a little on that later) and the bloodshed is doubled from before, which is exactly what Mindy tells us in another rules monologue that hearkens back to what her uncle Randy told us back in Scream 2.
As it is known by now, it wouldn’t be Scream unless the characters were in the know and telling us they know they’re in the know. Old by now? Yeah, but it is part of the charm. This time, once again written by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, the characters they write the dialogue for are much, much more fleshed out and actually interesting to follow and become attached to. Maybe the burden of introducing new central characters is removed, as well as the pressure of trying to be a Scream of old and new at the same time.
Whatever the reason, Scream VI‘s better character writing also helps the movie’s pacing. Like most of the others, the whodunit should play well on a rewatch, but some of the other details (A hidden Ghostface lair in the middle of NYC?, How did everyone magically get the ability to up and leave Woodsboro to the most expensive place in the US?) leave something to be desired. So does the ability for anyone in this movie to withstand punishment that would be fatal to us mere mortals; the damage buffs characters hold in this feature are quite impressive.
What is impressive considering where they were collectively in Scream is the cast, specifically Barrera who has done the complete 180 from being a weak link in the starring role previously to being a standout of Scream VI. Sometimes, all it takes is having more reps with the character you’re playing. Her, Ortega, Savoy Brown, and Gooding do have undeniable chemistry as a quartet, which helps Scream VI‘s underlying theme of family, Dom Toretto be damned. From the returning characters, Cox arguably has the best crowd-pleasing moment in the film, but in totality she now feels very unnecessary with the lack of Sidney and Dewey, and Gale has regressed from the growth she’d shown from 2-5 and it’s probably time to completely phase her out. Scream revealed Kirby Reed survived her run-in with Ghostface, which allows Hayden Panettiere to show up in her first feature in six years. Her initial re-introduction is awesome, but in entirety, her performance is more stilted than snappy.
For many franchises, typically horror, being six movies deep often means being relegated to immediate VOD and sharp declines in quality. While no following installment has been better than the first, nearly every Scream has been at worst competent and at best, really good. Obvious and low-effort pun, but Scream VI is a stab above last year’s outing.
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If it is a stab above last year’s film I’m all in, Mark. I thought the last chapter was a nice homage to the past while also pushing the franchise forward, and I am looking forward to seeing this one. Who knows…maybe we’ll even get Neve Campbell back for the next one.