If Ghostface called me and asked what my favorite scary movie is, I’d tell him Scream (1996). And then I’d probably die, but that’s besides the point. There’s something nearly religious about the first film, something cultic about the way we are initiated into the world of the franchise through Casey’s (Drew Barrymore) death, about Randy’s (Jamie Kennedy) commandments, Stu (Matthew Lillard) and Billy’s (Skeet Ulrich) ceremonial stabbing of each other in the climax, and Sidney’s (Neve Campbell) scriptural line, “Not in my movie.” For many horror fans, the original Scream is a sacred text. Although some of the sequels have been great – especially Scream 2 – the ecstasy of seeing the original for the first time never quite happened for me again. Something always feels a little thinner, a little more mundane.
Having said that, while Scream VI may not reach the same transcendent heights as the original, it is (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) the most fun and thrilling film in the franchise.
I should also add that I did not love Scream (2022). Its dismissal of toxic fans cast too wide a net and trawled up some healthy fans, too. I found that film without satisfying tension or sufficient room for the actors to perform, and so I approached Scream VI with understandable trepidation. But it turned out that I didn’t need to.
Scream VI takes place in New York City, where Tara (Jenna Ortega) and twin siblings Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding) are now in college. Sam (Melissa Barrera) has moved to NYC as well, to keep an eye (or two) on Tara and work on processing what happened to them in Woodsboro. They’re joined by new friends, including Sam and Tara’s roommate Quinn (Liana Liberato), Chad’s roommate Ethan (Jack Champion), and Mindy’s girlfriend Anika (Devyn Nekoda).
The Scream films and their many aspects are fun to rank; this includes their openings. Scream VI‘s opening? Stellar – easily in the top three of the franchise. It’s bold, visceral, successfully meta, and comes with its own twist, one that left me wondering where the film would go next. It was also during the first sequence that this dawned on me: Scream VI is on track to be excellent. I got excited to see if the film could live up to its start.
Besides a few bumps in the narrative road, I enjoyed the film from start to finish. If Scream‘s fifth installment was a controlled, contained film, VI blows the doors open. It’s big, brutal, and above all, polished. The film’s dynamic is fantastic, thrilling set pieces followed by cool-downs that allow the story to breathe and deepen. The film turns NYC into a labyrinth of traps for the characters to navigate, the knife (and gun!)-wielding Ghostface (voiced once again by Roger L. Jackson) always in bullish pursuit. No one is safe, and there are some attacks that had me saying “No, no, no!” under my breath. Scream VI is also easily the goriest film in the franchise, lingering on the aftermath of several kills. It’s not for the faint of heart, so warn your squeamish friends if they want to tag along to the theater.
This installment also features much richer acting and characterization than its immediate predecessor, despite the same creative team being involved. Last time around, I struggled to buy into Barrera’s performance. At times (especially in the scene where Sam reveals her paternity to Tara), her conveying of emotions felt strained. Perhaps the extra year with the character allowed Barrera to grow into her: she’s great in VI, unified with her castmates and in command of Sam’s nuanced struggle with her violent tendencies. Mindy and Chad are enjoyable and more substantial here as well, and the film spends plenty of time with them, developing their place in the friend group. Jenna Ortega is still our new phenom, and Tara has built up an even stronger tenacity to survive and thrive. And Hayden Panettiere! Don’t let me forget about her as Kirby Reed, who survived Scream 4 and came back over a decade later with poise and grit.
I’ve got just two complaints – but they’re big ones, so I’ve docked this film a half-star for it. First, the way they handle writing Sidney out of the story is less than she deserves. Neve Campbell turned down an appearance in the movie because she was offered too little money for it, and the explanation for her absence does her and her character no favors. I recognize the difficulty of writing her out, but the film’s rationale for doing so is out-of-character for Sidney. I can only hope Campbell can sort things out, get the pay she’s earned, and let this movie not be the last we hear of Sidney.
My other complaint is more troubling for Scream VI overall. Without giving anything away, there’s a major scene that simply does not work. The dialogue, acting, and scene-blocking are awkward and do not fit into the rest of the film tonally. Because the scene is so important, it’s a major letdown in an otherwise remarkably-cohesive movie.
My last hesitation when leaving the theater after this one was about finding an answer to the question “So what?” Ghostface is back again. Young people (and legacy stars) are back again. At worst, Scream VI feels a little hollow and repetitive. Why should I care about another one when we’ve seen so many? The best answer I can give is who cares if there’s a reason I should care? This movie frickin’ rules. It’s the best Scream since the 90s; I want at least five more this good. If we get another film (and no doubt we will), it’s hard to know how it can top this one in its intensity, but I can’t wait to see them try.