|Synopsis||When Sam and the other recent Ghostface survivors move to New York City to start college, they quickly find out they can’t escape their past and trauma, especially when the killings begin again.|
|Length||2 hours, 2 minutes|
|Release Date||March 10, 2023|
|Directing||Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett|
|Writing||James Vanderbilt, Guy Busick|
|Composition||Sven Faulconer, Brian Tyler|
|Starring||Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Courteney Cox|
With eleven years in-between Scream 3, Scream 4 and 2022’s Scream (which from here on out I will call Scream 5… because that’s what it is), I must admit I was caught off-guard with how fast the franchise has followed up with Scream VI (and the sudden switch to Roman numerals). After the initial three movies, the franchise became known for offering a biting critique on the horror genre, simultaneously evolving and spoofing itself in order to comment on the current cinematic trends in society. Yet with only a year between Scream 5 and the latest release, not enough has changed within the genre for the film to fulfil that role. With the slasher subgenre seeing a lot of wear and tear over the years thanks to multiple film franchises exploring that style and exhausting themselves to near-extinction, if Scream VI doesn’t continue to lean into its social commentary niche due to a lack of subsequent time between releases to build up enough content, then what will it have to offer that makes it stand apart from the plethora of other blade-wielding maniacs?
Violence/Scary Images: This is a horror film, therefore it intends to scare its audience. As a slasher, there are multiple stabbings, where characters are either murdered or horribly injured. Medium level gore where there are midshots of the blade entering the body and the resulting blood from the injury. Gun violence—characters shot to death. Multiple incidences of assault and blunt force trauma. Falls from a height. Some dialogue contains graphic descriptions of murder. A character is tased.
Language/Crude Humor: Multiple uses of the f-bomb, s-word, and other common swears. Jesus’ name is used in vain.
Drug/Alcohol References: Characters drink alcohol at a party to the extent that their sense of judgement is compromised.
Sexual Content: Multiple discussions about promiscuous sex lives. One character can be heard having intercourse. Several characters kiss each other. A lesbian relationship is shown. One character is essentially defined by their sexual relationship to another.
Spiritual Content: None.
Other Negative Content: One character is spoken about in a dehumanizing way. People constantly treat each other with distrust, or outright lie. A character is denied mental health services.
Positive Content: There are some interesting questions raised about the role of trauma in our lives and whether those moments should define us.
We already knew it was the case, but now it’s official: Scream is a franchise now. They directly joke about it in the film. So with all franchises, I like to analyze the question as to whether a newcomer can hop in and enjoy the latest addition without any prior knowledge of the previous films. Unfortunately, and quite surprisingly, this time you do need to do your homework. The premise of a mysterious killer hunting down a group of people isn’t too complicated to understand, but Scream VI enjoys referencing the past movies and thoroughly leans into a few motifs—neat pieces of symbolism and finer narrative beats that will be completely lost on unprepared viewers. The worst part is that the film directly states who the killers are in the previous movies, so watching Scream VI out of release order will spoil all the other films for you.
It leans deeper than expected. I enjoy the Scream movies. Even the worst of them are still pretty good in comparison to other films in the genre. Yet I don’t watch them all too often. I would be terrible at Scream trivia. I can loosely remember a few key moments in each film, and so far that knowledge has been enough to get me by whenever a new one comes out on the big screen. However, Scream VI is made for fans. I found myself trying to cast my mind back to remember a number of things whilst watching the current movie, which isn’t enjoyable to do in the moment. In particular, I found myself scrambling back to rewatch Scream 4 after finishing Scream VI since the new film retcons a character. So, if you’re the type of person that’s inclined to pull an entire movie marathon before watching the latest release, don’t ignore that instinct—you’ll be in the perfect position to enjoy everything that Scream VI has to offer.
It was interesting to revisit one of the older films in the franchise. The original three films were partial comedies, and Scream 4 maintained that sense of quirkiness as well. The fifth film took a darker turn, and Scream VI continues in that direction. For a long while the film enjoys exploring heavier dramatic content. Melissa Barrera settles more easily into her role as Sam Carpenter this time around, though she isn’t shouldering as much of narrative’s weight compared to the previous film. Her character’s journey continues to be an intriguing one, satisfyingly following on from the threads leftover in the fifth film. Although it’s Tara, Sam’s sister, played marvellously once again by Jenna Ortega, that seems to carry the film’s thematic content.
Television series aside, Scream VI is the first movie to have its action set away from Woodsboro. As the audience is introduced to the returning characters, it begins to explore the topic of trauma; whether past incidents define a person, whether it’s healthy to embrace that identity, whether it continues to follow people throughout their lives, and whether people can escape it. The film raises some interesting questions, and even a more meta one—how can a character leave a horror franchise without being killed off? The film tries to come to a thematic conclusion, though it seems it ultimately doesn’t know how to provide a satisfactory answer that doesn’t also coincide with the external fact the writers are establishing an ongoing franchise here.
One stumbling block is that the internal questions the film asks is partially overshadowed by the production’s real-life drama. Scream VI is also notable for being the first film to not feature the franchise’s usual protagonist, Sidney Prescott, due to Neve Campbell requesting too much money for her future appearances (or did she)? As Tara wonders if she can ever escape the horrors of Woodsboro and pursue a normal life, the elephant in the room is that Sidney appears to have figured out exactly how to do that, as side characters casually mention how she’s just-so-conveniently sitting this one out.
For Campbell’s sake, I’d like to report that her character’s presence was missed, but Scream VI is very similar to Creed III in this regard, where the previous film perfectly handed over the mantle to a new generation, so it’s almost expected for these new stories to move on without these past iconic characters. Quite frankly, it was getting ridiculous how the films kept trying to loop back in all of its legacy characters, to the point where it’s actually refreshing to not see Ghostface go after Sidney for once. The television series could also be seen as a proof of concept, where it demonstrated that the franchise could exist without some of its core iconography. So it’s no real surprise that Scream VI manages fine without its original final girl.
For the most part, there are a lot of good things going for Scream VI. It quickly establishes an air of dark brutality as it tensely takes the audience through at least three memorable and well-choreographed set pieces. While it won’t be considered truly scary for many horror aficionados, there are scenes that will make viewers creep forward to the edge of their seats. Yet like a lot others in the genre, things start to unravel towards the end.
Scream VI begins to be so self-referential that it’s questionable as to whether its own internal logic is sound. Not only are character motivations and actions dubious, but it’s starting to collapse under the weight of its own history, where just like season three onwards of Once Upon a Time, it seemingly feels like every character is loosely related to someone else, and gets to the point where it seems like it retcons itself. A second watch is most likely needed to understand what’s happening with the movie’s film-within-a-film series, Stab—they were up to the seventh film in Scream 4, and now it’s difficult to follow what is fictional in the world of these characters, what was true and fictionalized, and what, if anything, didn’t make it into the Stab franchise.
What was once delightfully self-aware, the film’s traditional public acknowledgement of the rules of engagement involved with horror films, and the analysis of current tropes and trends, now feel like a cage for the franchise’s creativity. On the one hand, this franchise has mastered a certain pattern in its narrative and these films are introspective enough to know what they are, developing a kind of identity. Why mess with something that isn’t broken? However, it’s beginning to stick to these guidelines to its own detriment, failing to take any real risks with its storytelling.
This time around the film identifies itself as a “requel sequel”; a sequel to a requel (a film that rebooted a franchise by simultaneously acting as a remake and a sequel). The scene barrels along, with characters spouting off all the things that are cliché to requel sequels, as though this is all established lore in cinema. Except it’s not. This franchise is really starting to show its age, as Scream VI is part of a limited club since requel sequels only exist within really long-standing franchises. There are plenty examples of requels in the horror world, though usually the requel fails to garner enough attention to warrant a sequel. It’s not like the original Scream where the “rules” were pulling from a plethora of other slashers. Now Scream VI is more of a pioneer in this sector. Off the top of my head, the only other requel sequels I can think of are Halloween Kills (although other films in this franchise might qualify as well), Creed II, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and possibly Rambo: Last Blood though it’s pushing it. Most of those aren’t even horrors.
In an uncharacteristic moment that lacks self-awareness, instead of admitting these characters are essentially in new territory, which could have been exciting to explore, the film bluffs its way through the scene as though it’s referencing a flood of other films, though really it’s only sending some love towards the Halloween franchise. It’s difficult for the screenplay to convince audiences that it is playing by requel sequel rules when it struggles to name drop a single title as an example, particularly when it seems obvious that “franchise rules” will trump anything else. Franchises follow a pattern, and Scream VI is no different.
It wouldn’t be so bad if Scream VI didn’t talk such a big game. The level of Ghostface’s menace seems to match the intended threat the film wishes to project, though once the credits roll and viewers are given the chance to properly reflect upon the events that unfolded and the deaths that occurred, it becomes apparent that Scream VI is lacking in guts, at least metaphorically. Even on a literal level things are disappointing. Throughout the series there has been a fair amount of grace with how hard the various Ghostfaces have been able to take hits, but Scream VI takes things to another level. Both sides sustain blows that should have been physically devastating, but instead the suspension of disbelief is the only thing that is truly broken due to how many times serious injuries are shaken off by the characters.
It’s a film that’s hard to rank and assess against the others as there are some fantastic sequences, though the narrative gets in its own way for significant portions of the runtime. Thankfully there remains a glimmer of hope for future instalments as it’s easy to see the key creatives are at least toying with the idea of taking greater risks and breaking the mold. The film’s opening act presents an approach that fans have been wanting for a while. It operates like a proof of concept and demonstrates that with a simple shift in narrative style, this franchise still has directions it can move that still feel fresh and invigorating.
What is truly interesting though is that, due to lead times for cinematic releases, Halloween Ends didn’t exist when Scream VI was being created, and with this franchise taking a lot of inspiration from that one, it’ll be curious to see the next Scream’s response. This is because Halloween Ends actually took a giant narrative risk. It went off-kilter. It went off-brand. While it didn’t match a lot of the audience’s expectations, one can appreciate what it tried to accomplish. It’s true with a lot of long-running franchises—there’s always one in the series that’s the black sheep that’s completely bonkers. What movie within the Scream franchise tried something completely different? There isn’t one. Yet. But the even the fake Stab series has one (or two)! As much as they tend to be horrible, Scream VI makes it clear that maybe it’s high time for the franchise to branch out, and not only break some rules, but some hard-line narrative patterns as well.
+ Brilliant set pieces
+ Raises interesting themes
+ Continues leftover plot threads
+ Nice homages to previous films
+ Creative opening act
- Staring to collapse under its own rules and lore
- Takes no narrative risks despite pretending otherwise
- Doesn't stand up upon reflection
- Lack of injuries break suspension of disbelief
The Bottom Line
As the sixth entry to this now well-established franchise, there are some wonderful scenes in amongst a trodden narrative pattern that’s beginning to feel a little too safe and stale for a horror film that touts it’s pushing boundaries.
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