Scream VI, as one of the film’s own characters tells us, is a “requel sequel” — i.e., a sequel to a franchise reboot which also follows some, if not all, of the continuity of the original film(s). We have been seeing many of these in the horror genre lately (and we are scheduled to see even more), so this is good territory for a “requel sequel” of Hollywood’s favorite meta-horror franchise to interrogate. Unfortunately, this interrogation falls flats.
This film picks up where the last one left off, with the two surviving sisters of the last Woodsboro murder spree, Tara and Sam Carpenter (Jenna Ortega and Melissa Barrera), relocating to New York City for college. Along for the ride are their Woodsboro friends, Mindy (Jasmin Savory Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding), and two new additions to the group (Liana Liberato and Jack Champion). Inevitably, a new Ghostface killer emerges to stalk and terrorize the crew. Murders happen. Everyone is a suspect. Yadda yadda.
The same writing and directing crew return to helm Scream VI. I found Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet’s directing work on the previous film to be fun and visually appealing. And even though some of the writing was ham-fisted, I bought into the central mystery and reveal of Scream V enough to enjoy the film as a whole.
Here, something is missing. The set pieces are slightly flatter. The writing is a lot less incisive when it comes to the franchise’s patented genre play. And a screenplay overly precious with its characters fails to maintain adequate stakes into the final act.
As is standard with these films, Scream VI includes discussions between characters over what is on the table for them, in which horror genre tropes are invoked. The big meta scene in this film attempts to explain how the circumstances with this killer are different. The characters now being part of a “franchise,” the stakes are much higher. Sequels mean bigger deaths, where anyone is at threat of being killed (even legacy characters). Anyone could be the killer (even legacy characters). Etc.
The scene is uninspired, reiterating “rules” that have been said before by different characters in previous Scream films, ultimately failing to articulate how this sixth installment is any different or unique from other entries. It is a scene that reflects the film as a whole, where the script struggles to justify the film’s place in this franchise. The meta-joke could have easily been how this is Scream 2: Part II, or how franchises get tired and run out of ideas. Instead, the film is reminiscent of Scream 2 and feels tired and out of ideas, but the script doesn’t seem to realize this.
The film takes great pains to establish this group of characters as a family unit. As a result, the new entrants never feel like a meaningful part of the ensemble, and the characters who return from the previous film are treated as too precious to be put in serious danger. Meanwhile, the legacy characters — Courtney Cox returns again, and Hayden Panetierre reprises her role as Kirby from Scream IV — never come off as intimately connected with this “requel” ensemble, making their inclusion in this found family a hollow endeavor.
To its credit, Scream VI has a duo of intense and well-staged set pieces. The first is the film’s cold open, which presents one of the few clever twists on the franchise’s premise that the film has to offer. The second is the lengthy subway sequence which has been heavily featured in the marketing. It is one of the few scenes in the film that unfolds the tension slowly and pays careful attention to the staging and blocking.
When it comes down to it, Scream VI is the black sheep in this franchise. Some would point instead to Scream III, which I defend. And even Scream IV, which I don’t defend nearly as strongly, does enough with its new ensemble of characters to create mystery and intrigue. This sixth installment does not have much to add to the Woodsboro legend (which very much remains the central motivator of the film despite the NYC setting).
Scream VI: C+
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)