Thirty-five years after Paramount Pictures teased a masked killer terrorizing the Big Apple, another decades-long franchise finally delivers on such a premise. Within minutes the sixth installment of the Scream series gets to the stabby stabby in Midtown Manhattan. There’s no mistaking the yellow cabs, the bougie restaurant with no name, and an upscale blonde (Samara Weaving) looking for her date (from an app) in a dark alley because movies. Jason Vorhees only hit Times Square for a New York minute, but Ghostface is here to paint the town red. For a full two hours.
Set a year after the events of the fifth entry, the narrative is firmly focused on the Carpenter sisters – Sam (Melissa Barerra) and Tara (Wednesday’s Jenna Ortega). Like the second film from ’97, the main cast is now college-aged, which means keg parties, date rapey frat guys, and plenty of mean sorority gals. In other words, a perfect setting for a high kill count via a new psycho donning a weathered Ghostface mask.
The formula is similar (“Everyone’s a suspect!”), but the new location of a bustling cityscape breathes new life for each elaborately staged murder, like a local bodega, a subway train, or an old abandoned movie theater (is there any other kind these days?). Character-wise, older Sam is trying to deal with her trauma via a therapist (Henry Czerny), while younger sis Tara would rather party and bury her feelings. Yet like the numerous, faceless unstoppable killing machines that wreak havoc in slashers, the Carpenter sisters’ feelings won’t stay calm and settled for very long.
While Scream V offered just enough new and old, resulting in a mostly triumphant return to the big screen, Scream VI is in nearly every way a better film. Not leaps and bounds better, but nonetheless… better. The performances are stronger, especially by Final Gal Barrera, who 100% owns her character dynamics both up and down this time. The pacing, even at 120 minutes (long for a slasher film), rarely lets up. And while the final twists in the last act are not that satisfying (or surprising), the level of practical FX gore, smart editing, and wicked staging by returning directors Matt Bettinelli and Olpin Tyler Gillett with a script by also returning writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick is undeniable.
As the story of a new threat out to kill the Carpenters and their friends is front and center, the legacy characters, thankfully, take a back seat. Former lead of the series, Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott, gets a brief mention just in case anyone forgot Paramount tried to play ball with her salary and lost. That leaves Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), the only remaining member of the original trio present. Also back from a pretty bad stab, part 4’s MVP, Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere). Strangely, while Kirby is now 30, no longer a teen, her witty banter has been disappointingly zapped. A bummer as Kirby’s return was one of the film’s more anticipated aspects. Still, since the main cast of gen Z-ers is so good, it’s not a big deal.
The newly dubbed “Core Four” includes Sam, Tara, and other siblings Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding). Mindy, the niece of Jamie Kennedy’s Randy (RIP Randy), is back to update us all on the new rules for a sixth entry, or in her words, “the sequel to the re-quel”. Like in Scream V, Brown is a cast highlight. Additionally, veteran actor Dermot Mulroney plays an NYC detective whose daughter Quinn (Liana Liberato) has the honor of being Tara’s roommate/potential victim. All in all, this cast shines.
Roger L. Jackson returns as the voice of Ghostface. Like the previous entries Jackson doesn’t phone it in. The menace and agitation are higher in the 21st century psychos who use his voice. Jackson knows each entry is a different person and has used that to deliver range to the all too familiar voice.
Is the film super scary? Not really, but as previously mentioned, there’s an impressive command to the staging of Ghostface’s attacks. One scene in particular, involving a ladder, gets the blood pumping. On the other hand, of all the tropes that the creators of Scream acknowledge and blow up, hitting Ghostface and then stopping for no reason never made any sense. Frustratingly, this is still a thing. If you knock them down, maybe a new rule should be keep hitting?
It only matters so much, however, because this movie delivers plenty of highs. As the sixth entry in a series that originated in the 90s, it’s still surprising how reliable it can be to laugh and Scream.