From the opening sequence, Radio Silence makes it clear they have lofty ideas in their tool chest. Following in the footsteps of Scream ’22‘s excellently subversive opening sequence, Scream VI throws another curveball into fan expectations and the gambit pays off well. The opening sequence wisely only utilizes the new setting in a limited capacity so as not to make it too overloaded with NYC imagery up top. Instead, the film introduces the city as the setting and then focuses on the tension of what’s to come. That tension works on a couple different levels, but it’s the emphasis on the anticipation of the gore and violence and the payoff thereafter that works to make this a unique and memorable addition to the franchise’s trademark opening scare canon.
The standout of Scream VI is the chemistry of the returning characters from Scream ’22. Chad (Mason Gooding), Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), Tara (Jenna Ortega), and Sam (Melissa Barrera) have all moved to New York and are close-knit as they continue to process the trauma of Woodsboro. Sam is in therapy, still wrestling with the demons of her lineage, while Mindy and Chad seem to be coping better than most. Tara, however, is struggling as she wants to ignore the past and enjoy her college life by making reckless decisions.
The bond among this core four group of survivors is strong even amidst the growing rift between the two Carpenter sisters born from Sam’s overbearing (from Tara’s perspective) protection of her sister. Tara wants Sam to let her go but really, it’s just that the former doesn’t want to be constantly reminded of the past by the latter. This yields good drama that is a step above the at times slightly melodramatic “prodigal sister returns” subplot of Scream ’22.
The emphasis on the core survivors’ lives is great groundwork for the film but leaves little in the way of setting up their friend group. Mindy’s girlfriend Anika (Devyn Nekoda), Chad’s roommate Ethan (Jack Champion), the sisters’ roommate Quinn (Liana Liberato), and the hunky neighbor across the alley Danny (Josh Segarra) are established well enough, but get lost in the shuffle of the survivor characters and legacy character storylines and ultimately lack the close-knit and fun chemistry of the friend group in Scream ’22.
Of course, this should really be expected considering that not only does Gale Weathers return (giving Courteney Cox the distinction of being the only woman to play the same character in at least six consecutive entries in a horror franchise) but Scream VI also sees the return of Hayden Panettiere’s beloved horror aficionado character Kirby Reed from Scream 4. It’s great to see these characters back in the fold but there are some choices that don’t quite work. Gale is on the outs with the Woodsboro survivors for reasons that annoyingly rescind her growth at the end of Scream ’22. It’s done to facilitate an homage to the first two movies that doesn’t feel as earned as the myriad of homages and references that were packed into last year’s film felt.
The more troublesome part of Gale’s involvement in Scream VI is how inconsequential it seems. She’s not utilized in any real meaningful way and, unfortunately, feels shoe-horned into a script that feels obligated to include at least one of the franchise’s two original survivors. Yes, there is lip service given to Neve Campbell’s iconic Sidney Prescott in which Gale refers to Sid as someone who “deserves to have her happy ending.” There’s no doubt this was meant with the best of intentions but given that Neve Campbell refused to return due to inadequate pay and the production/studio refused to budge on it makes the effort to reference her feel half-hearted.
The way Kirby’s reintroduction to the franchise plays out is a nice surprise if you’ve avoided the internet rumor mill. She’s an integral part of the investigation into the new Ghostface killings and brings her personal expertise into the mix well enough. But save for a charming scene in which she and Mindy swap horror movie fan dialogue, there’s little in the way of the effortlessly cool, charming wit that made her the standout of Scream 4. She’s more brooding and haunted in this installment, which tracks well for the character. There’s just a certain energy missing from her. It’s as if the writers didn’t know quite how to recapture the character’s essence and decided to give up and make a new Kirby in name only.
As for Ghostface and the killings themselves, Scream VI does not disappoint. The filmmakers continue pushing the envelope in terms of the intricacies of the set pieces and the slasher violence on screen. Carrying over from last year’s film, Ghostface still stabs his victims rapidly and repeatedly. The camera also still lingers on puncture wounds and the twisting of the blade in the masked psychopath’s victims to maximum effect. In a word, it’s glorious yet somehow still entertaining without going too far into depravity or compromising realism.
Of course, Scream movies rely heavily on the appeal of their whodunit mysteries. Scream VI is intriguing and effective in this regard as the investigation is headed by Detective Bailey (Durmot Mulroney) and aided by Kirby. This installment makes the choice to nearly eschew the in-universe Stab franchise and general movie fandom as a catalyst for bloodshed. Instead, this Ghostface is hell bent on reminding investigators of his predecessors instead of their in-universe film counterparts. It’s an interesting pivot from last year’s “toxic fandom” entry and makes for a satisfyingly nostalgic journey.
The trade-off, however, is in the film’s expected meta “rules of the movie” scene. Once again, Mindy gives the group (and us in the audience) a rundown of this installment’s rules for survival. But with a Ghostface killer who is referencing other Ghostfaces and not their Stab counterparts or horror film tropes in general, there is a level of heavy lifting needed to satisfy this scene. In Scream ’22, James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick’s script not only paid homage to the franchise and the genre itself, it spoke to those of us who grew up loving these movies while also establishing the rules of the “re-quel.” Scream VI‘s rules scene really only serves to give an overview of suspects and explain that they’re all in a “franchise” now, instead of just a “re-quel.” It’s fine but a bit flimsy in a movie that noticeably doesn’t want to be burdened too much by what came before it.
When Ghostface is revealed, the film gets slightly wobbly but overall satisfies in its landing. The franchise thrives on borderline over the top crazed performances in its killers as seen in the performances of Matthew Lillard, Timothy Olyphant, and Jack Quaid, to name a few from past Screams. Scream VI certainly has that going for it in its third act. While the motive and performance isn’t as well done as it was in Scream ’22, which had an added sense of crazy underpinning the delightfully heightened performances, it’s less random and better integrated in the franchise as a whole.
Despite a couple choices that don’t particularly gel with the overall franchise, the majority of Scream VI works well to deliver the fun slasher frights for which the franchise is known. Though it’s not the franchise love letter that Scream ’22 was, Radio Silence is still breaking new ground in one of the genre’s most beloved and entertaining franchises.
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