“New York. New rules.”
Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett / Writers: James Vanderbilt & Guy Busick / Cast: Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Courteney Cox, Dermot Mulroney, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Hayden Panettiere, Liana Liberato, Jack Champion, Josh Segarra, Devyn Nekoda, Samara Weaving, Henry Czerny, Tony Revolori, Skeet Ulrich, Roger L. Jackson (voice).
Body Count: 13
It’s 1997 all over again! What felt like a chance-it-and-see resurrection of Ghostface to hack and hew anew in 2022’s requel clearly paid off as the sixth instalment went rapidly into production for a release just 14 months after its predecessor, almost as rapid a turnaround as the films of yore.
In keeping with that speed, Scream VI takes the not unfamiliar step of moving things to a collegiate setting, rather than keep us in Woodsboro, just as Scream 2 hauled ass to a leafy campus, replete with youthful flesh to be slashed and torn. This time though, we’re going to college in New York City. It’s goodbye manicured lawns and imposing academic buildings, hello apartment living, city alleys, and the subway. It’s also goodbye Sidney, as Neve Campbell declined the offer made to her for returning.
Scream may be a franchise that prides itself on observing and bucking genre tropes, but is also married to many of its own making, and so starts with the familiar opening kill. We run into Samara Weaving’s film professor, waiting for her date to show up at a swanky NY restaurant. Messages through the Flirtr app detail a delay, so he calls her instead… A brief exchange over meta-slashers (“not that one”, when he asks her what her favourite scary movie is) and she is lured outside to help her date navigate when he allegedly gets lost down a between-buildings alley and encounters something scary.
It’s a ruse, obvs, and in true old-school style, the audience begs her not to go into that alley alone. The expected outcome ensues, but then something altogether unexpected happens, leading into The Opening Scene – Part 2, a little peek at Jason Takes Manhattan, and the title slashing its way onto the screen.
We’re soon reacquainted with our youthful survivors from before, the Core Four: Sam, Tara, Chad, and Mindy – all either attending or living close enough to Blackmore University. The latter three are in deep with their college experience, while Sam struggles to come to terms with the events of last year, as a series of online conspiracy theories posit that she was the killer and framed poor, sad Richie for it all. In a grim reflection of the age we live in, he is sainted, she vilified.
When news of a double-slaying and uncovered Ghostface paraphernalia reaches them, Sam immediately wants to get far away from New York, but is convinced to stay by her roommate Quinn’s detective father (Mulroney), who informs Sam that her ID was found at the scene. Mindy gets the chance to give a brief meta-overview of the situation before the sisters are attacked again, this time in a bodega, where Ghostface makes quick work of the storekeeper and a couple of patrons.
The cops discover DNA belonging to earlier killers on the mask, which happens again at ensuing crime scenes, each working backwards down the line of Amber/Richie, Jill/Charlie, Roman, etc. towards the inevitable earliest purveyor of the mask – Daddy Dearest, Billy Loomis.
Enter Gale Weathers, who broke her promise not to write a book about the latest Woodsboro murders, and thus has fallen out with the sisters Carpenter – so gets socked in the mouth again. Also enter Kirby Reed, last seen squirming from her stab wounds in Scream 4, now an FBI agent with a vested interest in the case, and allowing for some cute comedic relief when sharing the scene with Gale. The latter succeeds in finding a shrine to all things Ghostface, kept in a deserted New York movie theatre, decked out with clothes worn by victims and killers (Tatum’s green sweater and Mrs Loomis’ white pantsuit vie for centre stage), weapons, Jennifer Jolie’s burnt fax machine, the TV used to squash Stu’s head…
Assaults against the Core Four continue, with a red hot tense scene involving a ladder between high rise apartments that could’ve come out of The Poseidon Adventure, and a suspense-dripping attack at Gale’s penthouse flat, in which she asks if the killer minds being put on hold, up there with Sidney’s “I’m bored” hang-up from the 2022 movie.
Eventually, of course, all things lead back to the shrine, where a plan to entrap the killer is thwarted by the killer’s foresight, and then it’s the unmasking ritual, exposition, and turning the tables. While the motive is more believable than that of the previous film, it leans into campy theatrics here and there, once again showing that the assailants seem always to underestimate their opponents at the crucial moment and their big schemes flop.
As with any Scream movie, there’s much to like here, from the high-end production to neat visuals, in-jokes atop in-jokes, and way more action than expected – by the end I was exhausted by how paced it all was. Working against it, however, is a lack of sharp, witty dialogue, and a shortage of new characters who mean anything – given the high body count, only one character with anything to really do is murdered, the rest are made up of bystanders, people killed entirely off-screen, or have so few scenes beforehand, that we barely know their name let alone are provoked by their loss.
This in hand with upped levels of violence gives the film an edge, cold front to it. In Scream 2, Kevin Williamson killed his darlings by offing Randy, but here, everybody we saw previously is safe, despite several of them being stabbed or shot – in fact one person is virtually gutted, but returns a little later with ability to run. The high-stakes from before where nobody seemed safe aren’t welcome this time around. That said, I didn’t want any of them to die, as it’s a likeable cast roster, but with so much packed in, those who do meet the sharp end of the knife are barely missed, and it’s hard to consider how Sidney would’ve fit in if they’d succeeded in securing her.
This is a very high-BPM banger of a movie, and I needed to watch it a second time to fully get my head around it. Fortunately, it was better with a sophomore viewing, not least because the friend I went with jumped and jolted and suspected everybody before proclaiming “I told you!” to the entire cinema when the unmasking happened.