SCREAM VI Review: Meta-Slasher-Whodunit Offers Thrills, Chills, and Kills in Equal Measure

Lead Critic; San Francisco, California
SCREAM VI Review: Meta-Slasher-Whodunit Offers Thrills, Chills, and Kills in Equal Measure

After a decade-long hiatus due to several factors, including lagging audience interest, the collapse of rights-holder The Weinstein Company, and a transfer of those rights to Spyglass Entertainment (among other factors), the Scream series, once a trilogy, now a franchise came back to roaring, slashing life with the fifth entry, Scream, just a year ago.

Audiences and critics alike responded favorably to its combination of old and new, legacy characters and fresh blood (often both literally and copiously), smartly updated themes (corrosive fandom), and up-and-coming, twenty-something actors. There was little doubt then or now that Scream and the “meta-slasher-whodunit” sub-genre it kickstarted 27 years ago were back for another 2-, 3-, or even 4-film cycle.

With original Scream scribe Kevin Williamson moving into a producer role, the renewed series smartly shifted its focus from the old guard, Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and Gale Weathers (Courtney Fox), to a new, top-line duo, Samantha (Melissa Barrera) and Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega), sisters targeted by a newly resurrected Ghostface killer (or more likely given past entries, killers) in the Scream universe’s murder capital, Woodsboro, California.

Sam and Tara – along with Barrera and Ortega — proved themselves every bit as resourceful and root-worthy as their decades earlier predecessors (“final women” not “final girls”). By the last, rousing, crowd-pleasing moments, Ghostface (same name, mask, and robe, but different killers) failed to eliminate either sister.  

Always known for its social, political, and cultural commentary along with its clever meta-references to the slasher genre it resurrected and reinvigorated, Scream V (released simply as Scream) dived headlong into a takedown of toxic fandom and entitlement culture, taking a scalpel to both with razor-sharp, surgical precision, all the while delivering an overabundance of fresh, inventive kills of Woodsboro’s unlucky residents.

Outside of Sam and Tara, only two survivors make it to the sequel, the sister-brother duo of Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding). While Mindy provided the requisite meta-commentary, Chad mostly offered emotional support and the occasional muscle, though his survival fell more into the lucky-bordering-on-absurd category that showed the heavy, if devious, heavy hand of co-writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick.

With the newly dubbed “core four,” a nickname all but Chad hates since he was the first to coin it, Sam, Tara, Mindy, and Chad end up in New York City, Tara, Mindy, and Chad as first-time college students, Sam as the ever-protective, ever-watchful big sister keeping her eye on Tara. Sam’s presence in Tara’s life adds a keen level of friction between the two sisters, friction that, at least initially, threatens to sour, if not outright ruin, their relationship. The return of new Ghostface killers, however, means the core four have to band together one more time to uncover and defeat whoever’s taken over the identity.

Opening with yet another clever twist on Scream, with a Film Studies professor, Laura Crane (Samara Weaving), enjoying a drink at an upscale Manhattan bar-restaurant while she waits for her date, co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Scream V, Ready or Not), two-thirds of Radio Silence, figuratively and literally twist the knife, delivering not one, but two prologues, each involving an unseen Ghostface (voiced once again by Roger L. Jackson), before segueing to the core four and potentially key, peripheral characters, Mindy’s girlfriend, Anika (Devyn Nekoda), Tara’s roommate, Quinn Bailey (Liana Liberato), and Chad’s roommate, Ethan (Jack Champion).

Before too long, the body count takes a major leap, leading to the introduction of Quinn’s father, Detective Bailey (Dermot Mulroney), Scream IV veteran/survivor, Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere), now a pistol-packing FBI agent, and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). Campbell’s Sydney doesn’t make an appearance (not even in flashback), instead getting a throwaway line about her whereabouts in between Ghostface’s killing sprees.

As with previous entries, anyone can die, including, presumably, any member of the core four, and anyone can be the killer(s). And the rules now aren’t just sequel rules, but as Mindy describes it in the obligatory Scream scene, “franchise rules.”

In both cases, the key remains whether the identity of the killer or killers and their rationale for putting on the Ghostface mask makes sense within the rules of the Scream universe and the backstory accumulated over five interlocked entries. Non-spoiler answer: They both do, though the ultimate reveal doesn’t retain the sting present in Scream V’s unmasking, less for how close the killers might be to the core four socially than their much more ordinary, prosaic reason for targeting the core four and anyone close to them.

It's not exactly a disappointment, but at least in the moment, it feels like a slight letdown compared to its predecessor. What, however, Scream VI lacks in social commentary it more than makes up via the grisly, gnarly, gory kills the filmmakers throw into the mix at regular intervals. There is, as usual, a great deal of stabbing, slicing, and dicing, but the ferocity, not to mention their realism (credit to the makeup department), of some of the kills make them among the most memorable in the five-film series.

Ultimately, though, Scream VI succeeds or fails based based solely on its kills or its commentary, but on the strength of its central cast, specifically the central duo of Sam and Tara, and the performers, Barrera and Ortega, who breathe like into the reasonably well-rounded characters created by Vanderbilt and Busick and ably directed by Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett into giving grounded, persuasive performances. It might just have been the smartest move in the two-film “requel” to not just center Sam and Tara, but elevate them to co-equal status with Sydney and Gale in the series.

Scream VI opens Friday, March 10, only in movie theaters. Visit the official site for more information.

Scream VI

  • Matt Bettinelli-Olpin
  • Tyler Gillett
  • James Vanderbilt
  • Guy Busick
  • Kevin Williamson
  • Melissa Barrera
  • Courteney Cox
  • Jenna Ortega
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Courteney CoxGuy BusickHayden PanettiereJames VanderbiltJasmin Savoy BrownJenna OrtegaMason GoodingMatt Bettinelli-OlpinMelissa BarreraScream VITyler GillettKevin WilliamsonHorrorMysteryThriller

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