Scream is kind of a unicorn when it comes to long-running horror franchises.
There aren’t many major slashers that can claim to have persisted the same nearly 30-year span that Ghostface has, and even fewer still that have held up the same standards of quality. Inevitably, there’ll be a remake, or a reboot, or a requel, (and if you’re Halloween, all of the above) or some other interruption to canon along the way, in a desperate attempt to revitalize the franchise for new audiences. The point is, with a horror series, the end is usually in sight, often sooner rather than later.
There are really only two main exceptions to this: Child’s Play, which has (with the exception of the unrelated remake) managed to go from theatrical releases to direct-to-VOD to a tv show while maintaining the same original cast and continuity, and Scream. Child’s Play has the benefit of a franchise shepherd in creator/writer/director Don Mancini, who’s been guiding the killer doll’s adventures from the very beginning, helping to keep a sense of consistency that few other properties, horror or otherwise, can boast. Scream had much the same in director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson, until Craven’s death in 2015.
But with last year’s Scream (not to be confused with 1996’s Scream, because titles are hard) proving that even without the these figureheads at the wheel, there’s still plenty of life left in the franchise, there’s frankly no telling how long it could run. There aren’t many properties that can have me genuinely looking forward to installment number six, at least without feeling just a little bit of fatigue, and yet here we are: One year later, one sequel deeper.
And guys, Scream VI is awesome.
By the time the credits rolled on last year’s installment, it was hard to see a future going forward that didn’t simply feel like a re-hash of ground that had already been well covered several times before. And yet, Scream VI somehow manages to both drastically shake up the series formula, but also stick to the self-aware, satirical tone that makes the franchise so special.
Everyone knows how these things go by now: An opening scene with a phone call from Ghostface where he kills our first victim and slashes us up a title card. Except, that doesn’t happen here. At least, not quite. From the film’s opening minutes, Scream VI proves that it’s here to, if anything, disrupt what you’ve come to expect from a Scream movie. This is a much smarter sequel than we’ve had before.
On a meta level, Scream VI is a remake of Scream 2. You’ve got your college setting, a Ghostface making pointed references to the past, and a fresh new batch of friends and suspects to round out the surviving cast from the previous film. And the film is content with letting you think you know exactly where this is going. But then, as expected in a meta-romp like Scream, it pulls the rug out from under you while laughing in your face. We’ve been down this road six times now, and yet somehow Scream VI manages to keep you guessing until the very end.
The setting certainly helps. We’re not in Woodsboro anymore, nor are we in a studio backlot or a small college town. No, we’re in New York City, with a Ghostface who has a bolder, far more brazen attitude that matches the hustle and bustle of city life perfectly. This is a Ghostface who preys on the anonymity that goes hand-in-hand with large population centers, taking full advantage of the bystander effect and attacking out in the open, often in broad daylight. This Ghostface doesn’t just stalk his targets in their homes: He does it on subways, in busy corner bodegas, and in plain sight of oblivious pedestrians. This is Scream at its most paranoid, and by extension, its most tense.
Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever been as stressed watching a Scream film as I was this most recent installment. It is relentless, barely giving you time to collect yourself before the next vicious assault. And they are vicious. We’ve had some mean Ghostfaces before, but this one surely takes the cake. He’s cruel, he’s sadistic, and he’s extremely violent, striking quickly and efficiently without much of the needless posturing and toying around that previous iterations displayed. If he has an opportunity, he will draw blood. In fact, I don’t think a single character escapes Scream VI entirely unscathed. Victims are disemboweled, dismembered, thrown from buildings, and shot from point blank with a shotgun. And of course, plenty of stabbings.
The tension doesn’t just come from the ferocity of our killer, but from the sheer likability of his victims. The survivors of the 2022 Woodsboro killings are a charming, lovable bunch, and any threat against them feels like a personal attack. The returning crew of sisters Tara and Sam and twins Mindy and Chad (the ‘Core Four,’ as Chad so adorably dubs them) miraculously manage to cement themselves as equal to their OG predecessors, endearing themselves as worthy successors to Sidney, Gale, and the dearly departed Dewey. Mindy and Chad might be my favorite Scream characters ever by the end of VI, and Jenna Ortega is, naturally, fantastic. And I’m happy to report that Melissa Barrera’s Sam is drastically better this go around, both in her performance and in her character’s writing on the whole. She feels like a complex, fully-realized human being this time, rather than the monotonous, reactionary prop from the 2022. Gale’s still around of course (with Sidney safely out of the picture due to a pay dispute), and with Dewey’s death in the previous film, she feels firmly planted on the chopping block.
The new cast members are, in typical Scream fashion, more or less just there for the body count, but serve as fun enough additions to not feel like afterthoughts. But the real highlight is the returning fan-favorite Kirby, played by Hayden Panettiere, who survived her apparent death all the way back in Scream 4 and is ready to get some payback on any poor fool who decides to put on a Ghostface mask. Kirby was hands-down my favorite part of 4, and I’m thrilled to see her back, even if she is a little rusty. She’s joined in her efforts by Dermot Mulroney, playing an NYPD detective and parent to one of the teens that the killer has set his sights on. He’s a fine addition, but he’s no Dewey.
This may honestly be the best Scream sequel thus far, which is really saying something given the caliber of some of the franchise’s previous heights. It raises the stakes in a serious (but not overdone) way, has some incredible set-pieces, and is genuinely, truly scary. What more do you want from a slasher? It definitely has 2 beat in my book, improving on the barebones framework of that film in almost every way while.
Well, almost every way.
The biggest complaint I have with Scream 2 (outside of that horrible musical number in the cafeteria) is the killer reveal at the end. I love me some Timothy Olyphant, but his identity as one of the two Ghostfaces running around seemed pulled out of thin air. The same goes for Mrs. Loomis, a character that really made no sense being around the main characters and not being recognized. Scream VI has an equally out-of-nowhere and ridiculous villain reveal, one that admittedly sort of deflates the mystery a bit. But then we get the obligatory final showdown, which is another franchise best, so it all sort of evens out in the end.
Look, at the end of the day, it’s a Scream movie, and a damn good one to boot. If you like the previous films and you’re on board with the formula, you’re going to have a good time here. Scream 7 is already greenlit and set to release same time next year, which would normally be a concerningly fast turn-around time. But given what the RadioSilence boys were able to do with the year-long gap between last year’s film and this year’s, I’d say we’re in safe hands. Give me a dozen more.