In January 2022, when the fifth Scream When the film was released, more than a decade had passed since someone last donned the Ghostface mask and terrorized teenagers with threatening phone calls and a skillfully wielded hunting knife. This movie, the first Scream not directed by the series’ late writer Wes Craven, had plenty of new developments to catch up in the genre that ripped it so well: the rise of “sublime” horror, the tedious formulas of legacy sequels, and like a killer, the dependent on a landline could work in the smartphone age. The result was enough of a hit for executives to give it the green light scream VI, which rushes to multiplexes just 14 months later. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the follow-up has less to say.
Scream has always thrived on metatextuality: In the opening scene of the original 1996 film, an unseen caller begins quizzing a high schooler (played by Drew Barrymore) on the phone about scary movies. The film allowed Craven, a master of the slasher form, and screenwriter Kevin Williamson to poke fun at the genre’s tired structure and still deliver a successful take on it. Last year I was initially wary that the new leadership of the franchise, the Ready or Not Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett would not be able to recreate the tone of such a voice-controlled classic. But I was reassured by their attitude, which was genuinely fun at the expense of the latest generation of angry, Reddit-dwelling online movie nerds.
[Read: The newest Scream movie skewers fandom itself]
scream VI retains Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett along with screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, but lacks the agility of the previous films to find new angles on the horror world. The quick turnaround is partly to blame – not having enough stock happens within the genre in the intervening year really needs comment – but the other problem is the prosaic nature of a sixth film entry. earlier Screams mocked the tropes of a standard slasher sequel (scream 2), the grand finale of a trilogy (scream 3), the restart (scream 4) and the legacy sequel, which brings back old cast members and mixes them with new characters (last year’s confusingly titled Scream).
All scream VI really suggests he moved his cast to New York City, following the lead of other shows that did the same. (I’m mostly thinking of the camp classic Friday the 13thth Part VIII: Jason conquers Manhattan.) After the last movie’s bloodbath, Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) and her half-sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) moved to the Big Apple, where Tara and her movie-loving friends Chad (Mason Gooding) and Mindy (Jasmine Savoy) live to visit the college. The crew have made some new friends but are still brooding over old traumas when another Ghostface killer unexpectedly shows up and starts murdering college girls across town – while implicating Sam in the murders.
scream VI doesn’t quite have the same “legacy” appeal as its predecessor. Hayden Panettiere (who got the best performance from scream 4) makes a welcome return as the wily Kirby, now an FBI agent in the Ghostface case, but this time Courteney Cox is one of the few cast members from the original film, reappearing as the tenacious tabloid Gale Weathers. Rather than featuring a ton of character iterations, the film springs nostalgia from its script, about a franchise-obsessed killer who collects mementos of notorious murders and leaves them at his own crime scenes. It’s a nonsensical thread, but an obvious way for the film to look back on its turbulent history, perhaps in search of emotional weight.
At one point, Kirby and an NYPD detective (played by a snarling Dermot Mulroney who’s clearly just here to enjoy himself) investigate a bulletin board covered in former suspects (from before). Scream movies), looking for clues. But the two could just as easily be Hollywood producers trying to find a new lead on an outdated blueprint, admiring the ghostface headshots of yesteryear rather than examining original footage. The smiling faces of actors like Timothy Olyphant, Laurie Metcalf, Emma Roberts and Skeet Ulrich provide an amusing roadmap through a great and gory backstory. However, they do not provide the characters or viewers with a clear path forward.
Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett remain talented at set pieces, and scream VI has more than a few captivating moments. The opening sequence (always a highlight for these movies) features a fun switcheroo and plum cameo for the Ready or Not Stern Samara Weaving. A clever murder spree takes place in two adjacent apartment buildings, making brilliant use of the spatial geography of New York’s cramped living quarters. And an extended, suspenseful scene on the subway is a blast. But there just isn’t enough juice behind the stagecraft. The Scream Movies thrive because they’ve always been a step ahead of their source material — but as the franchise grows more bloated, they risk becoming their own punchline.