Among the more unexpected developments of 2022 was the year being kicked off with a surprisingly strong revival of the fan-favourite Scream franchise. The series’ belated fifth movie, simply titled, ‘Scream’, as a sarcastic reference to its meta commentary on Hollywood ‘requels’ (heavily separated sequels that act as reboots for a franchise, despite still keeping in continuity with the older movies), once again sharpened the knife of the Ghostface Killer for a new generation, and just as much so for the older generation. As much as the movie was designed for playfully dressing down more tired Hollywood franchise cliches, it did earn its barbs as well, with 2022’s Scream serving as a pretty good example of how to resurrect a beloved horror movie IP. This is especially true after former franchise director, Wes Craven sadly passed away during the time between the fourth and fifth Scream movies, leaving the Scream IP in the hands of two new directors, Matt Bettinelli-Opin and Tyler Gillett.
Fortunately, Bettinelli-Opin and Gillett have aptly shown that Scream seems to be in very good hands for its expansion to Gen-Z. The co-directors appeared to do such a great job with the fifth Scream offering in fact that there was barely over one year’s turnaround before a sequel was released into theatres, one more directly titled, ‘Scream VI’. With the ‘requel’ stakes set, you can imagine then that Scream VI keeps the blood flowing in a fresh new setting, much like 1997’s Scream 2 did several decades ago. As with that immediate sequel, Scream VI is all about doing the same thing, but bigger.
With 2022’s Scream standing as one of the stronger entries in the franchise to date, that’s certainly not a bad proposition on paper. Scream VI is indeed bigger, bloodier and even more ambitious than its predecessor as well. The pitch behind Scream VI is thus simple and effectively executed, proving pretty definitively that 2022’s Scream was no fluke, and that the franchise officially appears to be in something of a renaissance. Granted, by the sixth go-around on the meta slasher carousel, it’s tough to deny that this franchise’s playbook is straining ever more to come up with wholly new creative commentary or scares, but with another strong mystery at its center, and no shortage of gory carnage layered around it, Scream VI proves to be another of the Ghostface Killers’ better rampages.
One of the biggest draws behind Scream VI is its change in setting. Once again, the series is vacating its most frequent small town stomping ground of Woodsboro, this time shifting coasts to head to New York City. The franchise’s new survivor leads have all moved to the East Coast metropolis in order to pursue an auspicious student career at the fictional Blackmore University, eager to leave their traumatic pasts in Woodsboro behind them. Yes, it’s a blatant recycling of the Ohio-set premise behind Scream 2, only now, New York can easily become Ghostface’s playground. Like I said; The same thing, but bigger.
Melissa Barrera’s Sam, Jenna Ortega’s Tara, Mason Gooding’s Chad and Jasmin Savoy Brown’s Mindy all return from 2022’s Scream, and true to form, death is following them. Naturally, a new Ghostface Killer (or perhaps multiple?) surfaces in New York City, as a new killing spree begins in the Big Apple, with Woodsboro’s finest survivors square in its crosshairs. After the fifth Scream movie’s killers supposedly died in anonymity however, what remaining business could the legacy of Ghostface possibly have with the lead prtoagonists? That question is at the heart of the mystery surrounding our latest masked murderer(s).
“One especially impressive accomplishment under Scream VI’s belt is how surprisingly well it managed to break away from former series lead, Neve Campbell.”
There are a fresh batch of additional suspects thrown into the mix in Scream VI, of course, between Sam’s therapist, Dr. Stone, played by Henry Czerny, Chad’s roommate, Ethan, played by Jack Champion, Sam’s new boyfriend, Danny, played by Josh Segarra, Sam and Tara’s roommate, Quinn, played by Liana Liberato, and Mindy’s new girlfriend, Anika, played by Devyn Nekoda, among a few other debuting faces. As with the previous movie, Scream VI does a pretty good job of keeping viewers guessing when it comes to its killer(s) as well. Just when you suspect a certain party, they tend to be brutally dispatched in one of several effective twists. You even find legitimate reasons to suspect the four returning Scream 2022 leads (or the, “Core Four”, as they’re affectionally nicknamed in this movie), who may or may not be bringing the legacy of Woodsboro with them on purpose for various potential reasons.
Strong as it is, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Scream VI’s murderous mystery is perfectly airtight, granted. There are a few telegraphed turns in the storytelling, and if you’re well-versed in the former Scream movies, you’ll definitely be able to predict some of the jabs taken at Hollywood horror convention before they’re even suggested in this latest sequel. It’s fortunate then that the squeamish kills and heightened tension throughout Scream VI help to distract from some occasionally weaker story elements. This is thanks to the movie effectively leveraging a great new setting that feels both bigger and more constrained at the same time, where would-be assassins of college students can hide in plain sight, and deftly disappear into an uncaring crowd.
One especially impressive accomplishment under Scream VI’s belt is how surprisingly well it managed to break away from former series lead, Neve Campbell. Scream VI marks the franchise’s first cinematic offering that Campbell is absent from, with nary more than a quick throwaway line offered to explain how Sidney Prescott escaped the killer gaze of Ghostface this time out. You’d think this would be a detriment, especially after 2022’s Scream made the bold decision to take David Arquette off the board five movies in, but surprisingly, Scream VI doesn’t seem too fussed about losing the franchise’s legacy final girl.
Of course, it also helps that Courteney Cox’s Gale Weathers can’t help but run towards the killer blade of Ghostface, with Cox now officially standing as the only legacy lead to appear in all six Scream movies, not counting Roger L. Jackson being six-for-six as the iconic voice of the Ghostface Killers. Gale doesn’t play a huge part in Scream VI in the end, but it is comforting to see Cox keeping Gale’s edge sharp just the same, ultimately making just enough of an impression to keep Gale’s presence a pointed delight, even in a movie without Sidney at her side.
Easily the most unexpected comeback in Scream VI however is Hayden Panettiere, reprising her role as Scream 4’s fan-favourite sidekick, Kirby Reed. Despite being claimed to have been killed during the events of Scream 4, after a visibly horrific stabbing during the climax, Kirby’s death is (somewhat clumsily) retconned to have been a near-death experience, one that pushed her on the path to becoming an FBI agent. This makes Kirby another fun callback character, one that also works wonderfully as a legacy Ghostface suspect, with her unpredictable manner and seemingly unprofessional habits being a point of contention with the local police force, and her sudden appearance in New York being as convenient as it is inexplicable.
It’s thus Panettiere that manages to steal Scream VI and run with it, especially considering the limited screentime of Courteney Cox, and the complete absence of Neve Campbell. The Core Four are endearing and easy to root for in their own right, but it’s Kirby that ends up becoming the fresh, fun callback that viewers didn’t know they needed. As much as Kirby miraculously surviving her formerly fatal stabbing in Woodsboro doesn’t really make a lot of sense (but then again, this is hardly the first instance wherein a Scream character survived grievous injuries that blatantly should have killed them), it’s still good to have her back, especially when another sharp Scream script wastes no time giving Kirby some of its best zingers.
Scream VI is mostly successful as a vaguely tongue-in-cheek murder mystery, once again well-timed in a market where appetites for whodunit-style movies appear to be steadily increasing over the past few years. The question remains then; How does Scream VI stack up as a horror movie?
Like I said, by the sixth movie, it’s tough not to anticipate some of the Scream franchise’s bloody flourishes and biting commentary in advance. The revolving door of Ghostface Killers still helps to keep things fresh though; Plus, the final payoff behind Scream VI’s latest killings genuinely manages to mark some truly uncharted territory for the series. Better still is that Scream VI’s metropolis-flavoured kills do manage to squeeze in some creative high points. A heavily-marketed example is a Ghostface attack on a crowded New York Subway car, where the heavy congestion of New York crowds makes escaping plainly visible Ghostface killer(s) far easier said than done. Compounding the tension further is the anniversary of the latest Woodsboro killings around Halloween, meaning that there are red herrings wearing Ghostface masks that further obscure who the real threat on the train could be.
“In terms of sheer scares however, Scream VI demonstrates a surprising degree of killer creativity this far into the franchise.”
This is just one example among the ways that Scream VI tries to elevate its reliably bloody murders. The sheer size of New York adds a nicely unpredictable new sense of horror behind Ghostface’s strikes as well, even if there’s still a couple of attacks that feel a little too unlikely or contrived. In terms of sheer scares however, Scream VI demonstrates a surprising degree of killer creativity this far into the franchise. Not every slice of bladed brutality manages to be completely novel, but it’s very commendable that the renewed creative spark the Scream movies have found is sustained so well in a direct sequel, formerly an Achilles’ Heel for this franchise. As mentioned much earlier in the Scream movies though, there’s still a beautiful simplicity to a masked killer with a knife, especially when the imposing spectacle of New York further enhances the Ghostface Killers’ greatest strength among horror icons; Hiding in plain sight, and posing as a victim among the unfortunate souls that they’ve so coldly marked for death.
Scream VI astonishingly manages to rival its surprisingly strong predecessor, keeping the franchise’s renewed hot streak going, even after such a quick turnaround. As much as it’s sticking closely to the foundation that the fifth Scream movie already employed last year, Scream VI succeeds at expanding its latest requel-skewing agenda to a much grander scope. In the process, it manages to present another of the franchise’s strongest mysteries, while also delivering enough gory satisfaction to make its horror elements shine, even if Scream VI still can’t quite keep pace with the sheer meta ingenuity behind 1996’s original Scream movie.
It may nonetheless be fair to say however that Scream VI is the coolest, most exciting Scream movie since said 1996 original, and that’s a worthy feat in its own right, especially six movies in! Despite former lead star, Neve Campbell sitting out this latest Ghostface killing spree as well, the franchise hasn’t lost one bit of momentum, cementing a new ‘Core Four’ group of protagonists with just as much spooky, tongue-in-cheek appeal as the original Woodsboro survivors that came before them.
What’s my favourite scary movie? It’s a big question, but I’m happy to once again live in a time where a Scream movie can be a contender.