The requel sequel efficiently checks off all the slasher boxes without saying anything new.
The Scream franchise’s strength has always been in its self-awareness. Initially, it turned the camera towards the audience, demanding that they ask themselves why it’s so entertaining to see other people being made to suffer, and what happens if, as the tagline went, someone took their love of scary movies too far. Then it mocked the inevitability of sequels, then the movie industry in general, then how the media treats trauma victims like celebrities, with varying levels of success. The 2022 reboot, directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, sought to address all of it in some fashion, with toxic fandom on top of that. It was mostly successful, despite being at times aggressively meta. Scream VI does much of the same, although this time the knowing winks and nods are starting to feel a little tired.
It’s a year after the events of part 5, and the Woodsboro survivors have all recovered from their injuries without so much as a limp. They’ve moved across the country to New York City, where Tara (Jenna Ortega, still excellent), Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), and Chad (Mason Gooding) are attending college and trying to return to their normal lives. Tara’s sister, Sam (Melissa Barrera), is struggling to move past the “Woodsboro Massacre,” and still haunted by the idea that she may have inherited a taste for killing from her long-lost father, original Woodsboro killer Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich). Making things worse is a growing conspiracy theory that she was the mastermind behind the murder spree, and that Richie Kirsch was merely an innocent victim left to take the fall for her.
When two classmates of Tara’s (who were already on their way to taking up Ghostface’s mantle on their own) are horrifically murdered, it becomes immediately apparent that not even moving 2,000 miles away from home is enough to keep Sam and Tara safe, and that everyone in their immediate orbit is in danger. This Ghostface describes himself (or herself) as something new, one with not just encyclopedic knowledge of every Ghostface that came before him (or her), but access to their old masks, dropping them like calling cards at every crime scene, counting down to the first one, Billy’s mask, and leading to the question: who’s going to end up wearing that one?
Though it boasts the best, most likable cast since the original, it doesn’t take long to realize that, change in setting aside, Scream VI is essentially the same movie as its predecessor (which can be said about many slasher movies, and which is probably the point). Sam is still tormented by the CGI ghost of Billy Loomis, who occasionally shows up and encourages her to kill. When things start going down the friends, with new additions Ethan (Jack Champion), Quinn (Liana Liberato), and Anika (Devyn Nekoda), bristle with suspicion towards each other. The twist in who is behind the killings is both unnecessarily elaborate, and deeply silly.
It also rehashes bits from earlier movies in the franchise, particularly Scream 2, which is very much intentional, but doesn’t necessarily make it any less exasperating. Resident horror movie expert Mindy, just as she does in part 5, reminds the other characters often that they are, in fact, in a horror movie, which, as was the case when Mindy’s uncle Randy did it in the first two movies, turns out to not spare anyone from harm. Again, none of this feels unintentional: it’s a movie about horror franchises, which aren’t known for doing much to subvert the formula, save for occasional trips to space or the odd origin story.
On the upside, unlike in a lot of slasher movies, nobody wants to see these characters die, and it’s sad when some of them do (although others seem to have an ability to recover from injuries that borders on the superhuman). Ortega and Savoy-Brown are still standouts, and catching up with them is Gooding, who gets to have a sweet, tentative romance with Ortega. Also on board are Dermot Mulroney as a blustering police detective on the case, and Hayden Panettiere as Scream 4 fan favorite Kirby Reed, now an FBI agent. Courteney Cox returns as intrepid reporter Gale Weathers, though really her continued need to put herself in the middle of this story, even after the love of her life was killed, borders on the sociopathic.
As Mindy is careful to point out, the kills in a slasher sequel are always more brutal, and so they are here as well. Knives go into eye sockets, noses, and mouths, and no one stabs anyone twice when they can stab them eighteen times instead. There are some beautifully directed scenes of suspense, one in a bodega, and another in which Sam and the others try to escape from one apartment to another via a precariously placed ladder. Though it takes place in a suspiciously Canadian version of New York City, the high point is set on a packed subway, and gets perfectly right the rising panic that comes when you’re trapped on a train with a spotty-at-best phone signal, and that’s even before trying to figure out which of the multiple Ghostfaces might be the one who’s trying to kill you.
Scream VI is by no means a bad movie, and effectively scratches that kind of nasty little itch that only a slasher movie can satisfy. The Scream franchise overall remains the most consistently solid, without the clear distaste for its audience that so many other slasher franchises gradually developed. However, in astutely observing that nostalgia and formula are the lifeblood of the genre, it’s beginning to chase its own tail, in a way that makes you wish maybe the next one really will be called Ghostface in Space.
Scream VI is now playing in theaters.