“With Scream 6, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett deliver a slasher thrill ride that's better than the duo's 2022 soft reboot in every possible way.”
- Several memorably intense set pieces
- An unpredictable, thrilling prologue
- A likable ensemble of heroes
- A slightly disappointing third-act villain reveal
- A rushed final battle
- Hit-and-miss social commentary throughout
Contrary to what its reputation may suggest, the Scream franchise has never been as interested in reinventing the wheel as it is in polishing it up a little and sending it rolling back down the hill. That’s been true ever since the franchise’s debut installment hit theaters in 1996 and introduced the concept of the meta-slasher horror film, and it’s still true in Scream 6. The new film comes one year after last year’s Scream, which saw the horror franchise move on from the death of original director Wes Craven by passing the directorial reins over to production company Radio Silence’s Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett.
In its stellar opening minutes, Scream 6 feints at reinvention. After opening with the death of yet another unsuspecting blonde (played by an underutilized Samara Weaving, the star of Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett’s 2019 horror comedy Ready or Not), Scream 6 does what no other Scream film has before: It reveals the face of its first victim’s killer. For a few shocking moments, it seems like the film is going to do away with the franchise’s usual structure in favor of a Columbo-esque “howcatchem” plot where viewers, for the first time in Scream history, know who the killer is all along.
It’s not much of a spoiler to say that’s not what ultimately happens. Instead, Scream 6 subverts its viewers’ expectations yet again just minutes later with a double-murder that sets the film back on a familiar narrative track. Fortunately, while it’s easy to imagine a world in which Scream 6 followed through more directly on the promise of its opening minutes, what emerges is a horror comedy that’s just as intense, brutal, and genuinely thrilling as any other Scream movie that’s been released this century.
Scream 6 picks up a year after the events of its 2022 predecessor. When the film begins, Scream 5’s survivors, Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega), Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown), and Chad Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding) have all made the wise decision to leave their hometown of Woodsboro, California, behind in favor of college life in New York City. Unfortunately for them, it isn’t long before the already fragile peacefulness of their lives is shattered by the emergence of a new Ghostface killer — one who considers it their mission to make the world believe that it was Barrera’s Sam who actually committed the heinous murders of Scream 5.
In order to do so, Ghostface relentlessly hunts and attacks Sam, Tara, Mindy, Chad (known in the film as the “core four”), and the rest of their loved ones. While Scream 6 introduces a handful of new characters, it also brings back two more familiar faces in the form of recurring Scream reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Scream 4 standout Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere). Following the first of the film’s Ghostface murders, Kirby arrives in New York City with an FBI badge, a gun, and an offer to help Sam, Tara, and the rest of the core four take down their latest would-be killer.
Scream 6, in other words, follows the same basic formula as the franchise’s five past installments. Even the film’s loose college setting creates an unlikely link between it and 1997’s Scream 2. The only iconic element missing from the new film, in fact, is Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). The original Scream final girl notably doesn’t appear in Scream 6 as a result of some behind-the-scenes contract disputes between Campbell and the film’s producers. While Scream 6’s attempt to explain Sidney’s absence rings inevitably hollow, it surprisingly doesn’t affect the film much one way or the other.
Scream 6’s success without Campbell is partly due to how well its ensemble works together on screen. As Sam Carpenter, the franchise’s potential Sidney stand-in, Barrera seems to have a much better grip on her character here than she did in Scream 5. Opposite her, Ortega and Gooding make the biggest impressions of the film’s core four cast members, turning in performances that feel grounded despite the inherently heightened nature of the material they’re dealing with in Scream 6. Savoy Brown doesn’t fare quite as well as Mindy, who comes across even flatter here than she did in Scream 5. Elsewhere, both Panettiere and Cox turn in comfortable, confident performances as their respective Scream veterans.
Cox, in particular, is given a real chance to shine in Scream 6. The actress is at the center of one of the film’s best sequences, which follows Cox’s Gale as she is forced to try and defend herself from a violent Ghostface home invasion. While the film makes the most out of its cast members, it’s ultimately Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett who make Scream 6 truly sing. The directing duo turns up the violence and tension in their second Scream outing, delivering a slasher thrill ride that’s not only bloodier and gorier than its predecessor, but more aggressively intense and set piece-driven.
The duo’s heightened approach to Scream 6 results in some of the most memorable set pieces in the horror franchise’s history, in fact. From one nerve-wracking escape sequence that makes great use of the space between New York City apartment complexes to a violent bodega shootout and a tense Halloween night subway ride, Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin repeatedly prove their understanding of how confined spaces can make certain scenes that much scarier. The same goes for the duo’s ingenious use of sound design throughout the film. One particularly memorable sequence uses the sound of a door being relentlessly pounded against to gradually ratchet up the film’s tension until it reaches unbearable heights.
In between these moments of tension, James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick’s script packs in moments of meta humor that, in typical Scream fashion, land and miss with almost the same amount of frequency. For instance, a monologue from Savoy Brown’s Mindy about the rules of Hollywood “requels” doesn’t have the same amount of acidic bite as, say, a moment when Ghostface interrogates Gale over the phone about what it’s been like to play “second fiddle” to Campbell’s Sidney over the years. As was the case in its 2022 predecessor, Scream 6’s climactic reveal doesn’t work as well as some of the franchise’s past third-act twists, either.
The actor responsible for delivering Scream 6’s final twist does, however, do so with a level of deranged camp intensity that is, frankly, commendable. While the film occasionally struggles to make its biggest narrative beats hit as well as intended, there’s never a sense that Scream 6 doesn’t know exactly what kind of experience it’s meant to provide. Like so many of the Scream outings that have come before it, the film is a reminder of just how thrilling well-made slasher flicks can still be. Even if it never swings for anything more than that, Scream 6 still manages to cut deep.
Scream 6 is now playing in theaters.
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