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'Scream VI' review: Thrills, blood, and tension flow in solid legacy sequel

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures


When Radio Silence duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett rebooted Wes Craven’s iconic franchise, “Scream,” (the first sequel since the filmmaker had passed away), they had to thread a line between honoring the franchise’s reputation without being cheap or exploitative and deliver the goods. Did the world need another “Scream” movie? Of course not, but if one were to exist, the tasteful way in which the directors honored Craven and put their own stamp on the slasher series left fans like myself eager for where they could go next. The only logical explanation? Go big and move it to New York City. 

While “Scream 2” and “Scream 3” took place outside the realm of Woodsburo, the fictional town where Billy Loomis and Stu Macher begun the Ghostface rampage, Olpin and Gillett’s “Scream VI” packs up shop and moves the characters to NYC where all bets are off and the knife wielding Ghostface could literally be anywhere at any given moment. It’s a thrilling leap for the sixth installment that shows zero signs of slowing down. You can sense the filmmakers were restrained on the last trip (despite making the bold decision of killing off a major character), making sure fans knew they cared about the series. Here, they clearly had the confidence to steer this franchise into somewhat uncharted waters. 

Meaning, “Scream VI” takes bold and refreshing jumps from what audiences normally expect from these movies, including a wild opening sequence. Obviously, the whodunit element and killer reveal has remained a prominent staple amid three decades, but “Scream VI,” while bigger and, albeit, bloodier than the last go-around, has a strong character dynamic that keeps it from being another mindless slasher. The core dynamic of the returning characters, plus the signature commentary on franchise fatigue and sequels make up for an otherwise tepid third act execution that draws more parallels from 1997’s “Scream 2” than you might assume. 

Still, it’s a-lot of fun and the New York City setting breathes life into the latest horror offering. The film begins with Sam and Tara Carpenter (Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega - returning) trying to move on from the events of 2022’s “Scream.” They live in a studio apartment with fellow survivors Chad and Mindy Meeks (Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown - always a pleasure) who dub themselves the “core four” while attending a local university. 

Rumors have been swirling in the “Stab” redditsphere about Sam’s involvement during the events of 2022, becoming vilified online. She can barely walk around campus without being accosted by random bystanders, but all she wants is to make sure Tara is safe and if that means showing up unannounced at a Halloween frat party with a taser, the killer better watch his back. The sister bond ends up being a major cornerstone of “Scream VI,” helping ground the proceedings until the towering, relentless Ghostface (voiced to perfection by the irreplaceable Roger L. Jackson) shows up and puts everyone within Sam and Tara’s orbit - including newcomers Anika (Devyn Nekoda), Danny (Josh Segarra), Ethan (Jack Champion), Quinn (Liana Liberato), and her dad (Dermont Mulroney) - on death watch. 

It also brings forth an eclectic rotation of possible culprits, including fellow legacy cast members Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere - returning from “Scream 4”), who have their own reasons for poking around. Writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick are within their element, unafraid of shying away from the meta awareness that gave “Scream” its household name, including a fun riff on how franchise’s operate, a hilarious Letterboxd name drop, and plenty of brutal thrashings that rival some of the series signature deaths. One sequence set aboard a subway train is a textbook example of how to build tension for these characters in a city known for its bystander effect.  

But this iteration of Ghostface comes with baggage ala a massive shrine, disposed like an evil lair, and is filled with a treasure trove of easter eggs many will devour. And with so much going on and engrossing chases happening more frequently (the showdown between Gale and Ghostface teased in the trailer does not disappoint) “Scream VI” seldomly drags nor does the absence of Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott leave much of an impact (after going through five of these things, I was fine with her sitting this one out. Poor girl needed a break). 

There are times when the fan service goes a bit overboard and the tongue-and-cheekiness wasn’t lost on this viewer, but it all comes from a place of admiration. Another part of me wishes the studio would’ve sprung to film actual scenes in New York City (it was shot in Canada) as some locales look wobbly at best. Yet through it all and sans its shortcomings, “Scream VI” manages to maintain its identity. Gooding and Brown remain one of the better creations out of this rebirth, the latter happily embracing her Jamie Kennedy roots with another juicy movie monologue (and her constant deducing of who Ghostface is) and Gooding has crackerjack comedic timing who livens the film's bleaker moments. It was nice to see Panettiere making her big screen return after many theories circulated on whether or not she survived the events of “Scream 4.” 

One wonders where a seventh installment might go in this “Scream” universe, but for now “Scream VI” maintains the momentum set forth by its predecessor and makes interesting choices (Ghostface with a shotgun?!) and delivers satisfying thrills. Reservations aside, this is a solid, sturdy Ghostface vehicle with enough juice to make casual viewers care about these movies and the characters again. 

Grade: B+ 

SCREAM VI opens in theaters Friday, March 10th. 


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