The HoloFiles

REVIEW: Scream VI

By George Bate & Josh Bate

Melissa Barrera (“Sam Carpenter”), left, and Jenna Ortega (“Tara Carpenter”) stars in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group’s “Scream VI.”

A young woman receives a phone call at night. At first dismissive of the caller as a stranger, the young woman strikes a rapport with the caller, a smooth-talking and charismatic man. The conversation progresses and soon the young woman and the caller are talking about horror films (cue the “Do you like scary movies?” quote). Suddenly, the young woman realizes she is in the middle of a situation right out of a scary movie. The caller, once easy-going and charming, is now aggressive, threatening, and ominous. To make matters worse, the caller makes it known that he is in the vicinity of the young woman. Before the young woman can call for help or escape, the caller, donning the iconic black and white Ghostface mask, comes out of hiding and brutally slashes the young woman to death.

No matter how many times we see a situation like this unfold in a Scream movie, it never fails to evoke true terror. 

Ghostface in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group’s “Scream VI.”

The franchise that reinvented the slasher film and (almost single-handedly) revitalized the horror genre returns for a sixth installment. Following the events of Scream (2022), Scream VI follows sisters Tara and Sam Carpenter, played by Jenna Ortega and Melissa Barrera respectively, who have moved to New York City following last year’s Woodsboro murders. The terror follows the duo, however, as they soon find themselves in the middle of a series of new Ghostface killings with ties to the past.

Scream (2022) had the gargantuan task of living up to four prior films helmed by the Master of Horror himself Wes Craven. And, for the most part, it succeeded. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet, perhaps better known as the directing duo Radio Silence, found a way to continue Craven’s meta-slasher series that retained its predecessors whodunit mystery and dark humor elements, while also satirizing the trend of legacy sequels/reboots and commentating on toxic fandom and elevated horror. With Scream VI, the directors have crafted a darker, bloodier, and more violent sequel, one that works excellently as a tense mystery meets slasher film, but has shortcomings in regards to the meta-awareness that makes Scream such a unique franchise. 

Ghostface in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group’s “Scream VI.”

The Scream franchise has always been more than just a fun slasher and tricky whodunit. Scream had something to say about horror movies and slasher tropes. Scream 2 had something to say about sequels. Scream 3 had something to say about the sleazy underbelly of Hollywood. Scream 4 had something to say about the effects of social media and the pursuit of internet fame. Scream (2022) had something to say about requels (reboots + legacy sequels) and what happens when fandom gets out of hand. Scream VI, however, lacks the deeper, more thoughtful meta-undertones of its predecessors. Of course, the film has the classic scene in which our group of friends meet and discuss the rules of slasher films. And the film is littered with neat easter eggs and witty one-liners referencing other horror movies. But, unfortunately, as the film progresses it becomes clear that Scream VI does not have as much to say about horror cinema or broader pop culture as one has come accustomed to in watching a Scream movie. In this sense, it is surprising how safe Scream VI is. The characters indulge in a meta-aware, wink-to-the-audience conversation about how, this deep into a franchise, the rulebook is thrown out and anything and everything can happen. And yet, the film very much adheres to the tried-and-tested rulebook until the very end. What could have been a sequel that really swung for the fences is, instead, one that is more than happy to repeat the past.

Despite these shortcomings related to its meta-messaging and pop culture commentary, Scream VI doesn’t completely lack novelty. Directors Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett firmly lean into their horror roots, making a Scream film that is decidedly darker, more brutal, and more unnerving than all five of its predecessors. Indeed, the filmmakers never shy away from violence and deliver some of the series’ grotesque kills to date. Part of Scream VI’s darker tone can be attributed to relocating the characters and story to New York City. A stark contrast from the sunny and idyllic suburban Woodsboro, the New York City portrayed in Scream VI is menacing, ominous and threatening. Whether it be down any alleyway or amidst a massive crowd, Ghostface never feels far away. While isolation in horror movies can be scary, Scream VI shows that there isn’t necessarily safety in numbers, with the mass volumes of people and crowds in the city representing an entirely different level of threat. The filmmakers capture the urban terror of New York City so well, in a way that Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan woefully failed at. Particular highlights include a grimy convenience store scene in which a shotgun-wielding Ghostface hunts after Tara and Sam and an unsettling subway scene in which the characters are aboard a crowded train surrounded by people wearing Ghostface masks for Halloween. 

L-r, Mason Gooding (“Chad Meeks-Martin”), Jenna Ortega (“Tara Carpenter”), Jasmin Savoy Brown (“Mindy Meeks-Martin”), Devyn Nekoda (“Anika Kayoko”) and Melissa Barrera (“Sam Carpenter”) star in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group’s “Scream VI.”

A seemingly surface-level criticism with deeper implications emerges when reflecting on Scream VI’s darkness and violence. The meta-awareness aside, the Scream franchise is a slasher film grounded in reality (Ghostface is a masked killer, not an actual ghost for instance). This realism, however, is contrasted by the sheer amount of violence and brutality characters survive in the film. A character may be stabbed multiple times in the heart/lung area and yet still be alive and well. On the surface, this criticism may be easy to overlook, but it unfortunately lowers the stakes of such an intense slasher film when the audience knows the characters they are rooting for can survive such extraordinary violence.

Scream VI also benefits from an extremely likable friend group at the center of the film. The “Core 4” friends consist of Tara and Sam Carpenter, Mindy (played by Jasmin Savoy Brown), and Chad (played by Mason Gooding). The chemistry between the four friends is palpable and will make the audience root against Ghostface, unlike many other slashers where audiences can’t help but cheer on the big, knife-wielding bad guy. Josh Segarra, previously seen in the superhero shows Arrow and She-Hulk: Attorney At Law, is a newcomer to the cast and is captivating whenever he is on screen. Unfortunately, the legacy cast is missed here. Courteney Cox is brilliant again as Gale Weathers, in an expanded role compared to her more limited appearance in Scream (2022). But, Neve Campbell and David Arquette are definitely missed. Of course, Campbell did not return as Sidney Prescott after releasing a statement about her displeasure with the offer provided to her. And Arquette’s Dewey was killed in the last film. Scream VI tries to compensate for the absence of these beloved legacy characters by reintroducing Hayden Panettiere as Kirby Reed, a survivor from the Ghostface murders depicted in Scream 4. Panettiere is terrific and takes Kirby in an unexpected direction from her last appearance, but nothing can make up for Neve Campbell and David Arquette as two of horror’s most lovable characters. 

Hayden Panettiere (“Kirby Reed”) stars in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group’s “Scream VI.”

Beyond its cast, one of the reasons Scream movies work so well is that they pack so many twists and turns in their whodunit mystery. Scream VI does not disappoint on this front. From beginning to end, the film is a guessing game and constantly keeps you on your toes to suspect everyone and trust no one. An amazing open sequence that subverts expectations from the get-go sets a tone for the murder mystery that never relents. This culminates in a series of revelations at the film’s conclusion that are unexpected to say the least. 

Verdict: 7.5/10

Scream VI lacks the meta-awareness and poignant commentary of its predecessors, but excels with its murder mystery and dark comedy elements. Although some legacy characters are missed, the film benefits from an extremely likable friend group at its core with Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jasmin Savoy Brown, and Mason Gooding all delivering excellent performances. In the end, Scream VI may be a somewhat underwhelming Scream movie, but is undoubtedly a thrilling and entertaining slasher film.

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