Scream VI (2023)

MARCH 7, 2023


At this point, it's safe to say Scream 2 will always be my favorite sequel in the series: it has the best setpieces out of all of them, a likeable supporting cast, Sid's best hair (look - my Neve Campbell crush was half the reason I saw the first movie to begin with, leave me alone!), and - considering they had to rewrite it after leaks - a solid reveal with the whole Debbie Salt/Mrs. Loomis* thing. And it's due to those other things that makes the reveal work as well as it did: if the film wasn't so exciting (the AV chase!) and if it didn't have a big cast of people they weren't afraid to just let live/not be red herrings (Joel the cameraman, David Warner, the sorority girls, etc), maybe we would have had time to notice that Sid never saw Debbie Salt, who she'd obviously recognize (Gale did, but Debbie played it off as someone who bugged her at one of her symposiums). It's something I thought of more than once during Scream VI, which apes that film fairly often, and ultimately to an unfortunately detrimental degree.

But I'll get into that later (there will be some vague spoilers at that point, and I will warn you in advance), and for now just focus on what works. For those who don't memorize my opinions on every movie, I'll remind you that I really liked Scream 5, feeling that it successfully pulled off what 2011's Scream 4 failed to do: let the core trio of Dewey, Gale, and Sid play second fiddle to a new cast of characters that could keep the franchise going. Throughout S4 it felt that no one could decide who to focus on, and seemingly ultimately landed on "neither", leaving the movie feeling rather aimless and clunky (why does Alison Brie's nothing character get the most extended death sequence?). 2022's revival did it right, leaving our old heroes out of it entirely for a good half hour or so, and organically weaving them into the story starting with Dewey (the only one still in town). That it had some solid commentary about entitled fans and franchises pulling "requels" to appease those fans was just icing on the cake.

And it killed Dewey, and yes, that was a good thing to my eyes. Did I *want* to see Dewey die? No, of course not, I loved him and it made me sad, and on the three times I've rewatched it I keep hoping somehow it'll play out differently. But he had to die, because A. Scream 4 botched the impact of Sid's dreaded "return to Woodsboro" and they needed something of that magnitude for her to come back there (a mere injury wouldn't do), and B. we had to believe - for the first time since Cotton died at the beginning of S3 - that our characters weren't safe. It's a slasher series with a shockingly high number of survivors at the end of each movie (Jason would NEVER!), but it can go on forever if they keep introducing new characters we love (and of the four newcomers who survived Scream 5, I loved three of them - sorry Sam) in each movie while occasionally saying goodbye to others. And that doesn't even necessarily mean killing them; by now everyone knows Neve isn't in this one due to some salary disputes**, but her absence is explained quickly (Gale says she's taken her family to somewhere safe) and honestly I feel that's how it should have been even if Neve wanted to do the movie for free. Any in-movie use of Sid would either be something no one on the planet would want to see (her death, after surviving so many others) or yet another person left standing at the end of this one.

Wait, I'm jumping to the third act again when I promised to get to what works! Sorry. OK, so: the opening is TERRIFIC, featuring a surprise we haven't seen in any other film so far and - my heart! - a tip of the hat to Jason Takes Manhattan, which I've been making jokes about ever since they announced that this one would be set in New York. And the change of scenery is nice; they don't use New York much at all (it was, like JTM, shot in Canada) which is disappointing considering how much of the marketing has been focused on "Ghostface in the Big Apple!", but still, a big city is a change of pace from the others, and while the beats keep cribbing from S2 they don't even have a single scene set on the school that Tara, Chad and Mindy are all attending together (with Sam moving there too as a good protective big sister). And they use the crowds to their advantage: there's a convenience store scene where Ghostface takes out a few customers while chasing Sam and Tara, the subway scene from the teaser trailer with all the other horror icons standing around (it's set on Halloween), and the aforementioned opening murder occurs within a few feet of busy foot traffic. So while it sadly lacks a single iconic New York visual (come on guys, even Jason got to prowl around Times Square on a way lower budget!) unless you count the subway (something many big cities have), it at least makes pretty good use out of the idea of a slasher in an urban environment.

And the character work is on point; Sam and Tara's relationship is still brittle but in a different way. Whereas before Tara resented Sam for leaving, now she's sick of her overbearing ways, and feeling Sam's inability to get past what happened is forcing her to dwell on it too ("I'm not going to let three days define my entire life!" she says at one point, and somewhere Laurie Strode feels attacked). The payoff to this thread is corny but well earned, and the fact that I'm discussing the character work in part 6 of a slasher series is pretty incredible on its own, regardless of well it's executed. And Chad and Mindy are as delightful as ever; Mindy's got a new girlfriend and gets to explain the rules of franchises (I'm not sure how it's any different than a sequel, but there are some good laughs in the scene) and Chad's realizing he's got feelings for Tara, which is much better than his weird "let me track your phone" stuff in the last one. As I've mentioned in other things, I hate the common trend of modern horror (slashers in particular, but anything with a group of friends is guilty) where they seem to hate each other and/or are betraying one another, so it's always nice to see people who genuinely care for each other, repeatedly putting themselves in harm's way to protect one another, etc. Early on, Chad is trying to find a date at a party when he's informed that some frat douche is trying to hook up with a drunken Tara, and the speed in which he forgets what he's doing and rushes to protect her is so damn sweet (this is before their romantice feelings start bubbling up, to be clear).

As for the legacy folk, Gale is in three or four scenes, which felt right. They already established she lived in New York now, so it's easy enough to work her into the story, but I was disappointed she ended up writing a book about Richie anyway, despite her promise (as for whether she ALSO wrote the promised book about Dewey, we aren't told, but I'm guessing not). That said, I admit it felt a little weird to see her without the others to play off, something they try to work in by having her at odds with Kirby (from S4, if you've forgotten), who might as well have been a different character anyway - she's now an FBI agent? I kept waiting for her to announce she was just posing as one and just wanted to meet other survivors or something, but nope: she's just an FBI agent now, I guess. She gets a cute little scene with Mindy where they share horror opinions, but otherwise it felt like they wrote her in to appease the her fans without having an actual use for her, to the extent that she doesn't even come off as a genuine red herring because she was shoehorned in so awkwardly. The new characters, unsurprisingly, don't get to leave much of an impact, but I did enjoy seeing Henry Czerny as Sam's shrink, and they wring every possible bit of tension out of the series' habit of murderous love interests with Sam's new boyfriend (Josh Segarra), who lives across them and, like Derek in Scream 2, will keep you guessing about his intentions until his last on-screen moment.

Oh and they thankfully don't lean on Stab too much. After three movies in a row where it played such a big focus, I was relieved that the meta-series' usage was confined to a few mentions and visuals (the posters, mostly) in that "shrine" thing that we've seen in the trailers. The killer's hook this time around is to leave behind Ghostface masks that were used by the previous killers, which had me thinking it was all some megafan's nonsense, but as is often the case in Scream movies, once someone points out a "pattern" with the killings, the concept is basically dropped. But that's fine, because more of that probably would have meant more Stab stuff, and While part of me is still curious about what exactly those later sequels entailed (I recently learned that, in the canon, Robert Rodriguez ended up coming back to direct Stab 3 after Roman Bridger obviously couldn't finish it - what the hell was that conversation like?), I'm happy to just let the whole Stab element be backgrounded like it was here and in Scream 2, where it just propelled the opening sequence and was otherwise ignored. In fact there's little mention of real movies, either; Kirby and Mindy's scene, a few lines in the opening (in which a character specifically trashes the Stabs, heh), and the random appearances of masks via the Halloween costumes are about the extent of it. Not an issue really, but it adds to the fact that the meta jokes and commentary are toned down here, as the focus is primarily on scares and suspense, which is another thing it borrows from the second film.

(OK, HERE COME THE LOW KEY SPOILERS!!! No identities or specific deaths will be directly mentioned, but I will get into 3rd act issues and you might be able to just figure them out by process of elimination or whatever, so just be warned!!!)

So I keep mentioning Scream 2, and that's unavoidable. During her rules scene, Mindy even notes that the killer or killers are following the original pattern (yup, there are TWO patterns this time!). First time was in Woodsboro, then it was at a college - and now THEY'RE in college after dealing with him in Woodsboro. And the pacing/structure is very similar to that film (it's also over two hours long, as S2 was), Sam sends her boyfriend off by saying it's for his protection but it's also because she's not sure he can trust him, there's an outdoor daylight scene where they try to lure Ghostface out on the phone (Mindy again notes the similarity here), etc. The finale, set in the shrine, even has the giant sun from Sid's play (the thing Derek was tied to) in the background the whole time again! And, alas (vague spoiler here!) the motive is even identical to one of the killers' in S2, which I'd prob just wave off if not for the fact that the killer's identity was pretty obvious from the getgo and the actor/actress portraying them is way over the top, as if they were acting for one of the Stab movies or even "Scary Movie 6" instead of the real deal. Plus, I mentioned how the "Debbie Salt" thing worked earlier? There's nothing like that here, despite the fact that at least three characters should have been able to make a connection between the new killer and the past event their motive is tied to.

Also (spoilers again, but still no specifics) at about 80 minutes into the movie a character is brutally attacked, and they survive. And before I could even decide if it was a good or a bad thing, another character is brutally attacked... and they also survive. And then in the finale, two (2) characters are attacked even more viciously than those others were... and they BOTH survive!!! Now, I'm not bloodthirsty, and I like these people - I'm not *wishing* for their deaths or anything. But that's what we sign up for when it comes to this kind of movie, the knowledge that not everyone is going to make it. And when you're offing five people who don't even have names (two barely seen boyfriends, three people in the convenience store) to make up for it, it starts to feel weightless, and far too safe. I was no longer concerned for anyone's survival in the last half hour of the movie, which when added to the weak reveal (which also involved a cheat but I can't even begin to explain that without spoiling something, names or not) made me rapidly lose my engagement with it. I was all in for the first hour and change, but as soon as Ghostface seemingly lost their ability to actually kill anyone, my interest deflated. Dewey's survival worked in S2 because it was like an olive branch after losing Randy, plus Gale's emotional reaction to it (dropping her reporter act in the process) helped sell the moment - here it's just a parade of people brushing off what seemed like fatal wounds. It'd be like if, after they wheeled out Dewey in S2, they were also like "Oh, Derek's gonna make it too!" and then Hailey and maybe even one of Sid's bodyguards came running up to let her know they were OK as well.

I mean, I could forgive one of those two things (the "safeness" and the weak reveal) if the other was delivering the goods, but both? Not so much. As I've said for years, better a movie starts off on the wrong foot and then recovers, rather than starts strong and then whiffs it at the finish line, which means as I sat there almost rolling my eyes at the reveal (and then literally doing so at the film's final "they survived!" copout) I was starting to forget all the great stuff that came earlier, walking out feeling slightly let down. I still liked the movie overall (this has been a very consistent franchise), but for a while I was like "this could be better than 5 if they stick the landing!" and then I ended up at "well, still better than 3 or 4," which I already know this team was capable of doing. And aping my favorite sequel just made it easier for its blemishes to stick out (kind of like how part of the reason I can't enjoy F13 New Blood is because they're clearly trying to emulate Final Chapter, my favorite). I'm sure when I watch it again I'll be a little more forgiving since I'll know beforehand, not to mention knowing that the marketing was largely misleading (Ghostface's "You've never seen one like ME!" is not actually in the movie, but it's also woefully inaccurate, so that's probably for the best) but I'm just as sure that I won't be rewatching it as often as my favorite entries. But I swear, it has nothing to with Sid's absence! I didn't even miss her! Let her retire!!

Ranking: 1, 2, 5, 6, 3/4 (I keep flip flopping on those last two, so I'm just leaving it as a tie from now on). Also: the film is available in 3D, but it wasn't shot that way, and apart from the opening title I can't think of one moment that might have been fun to see with the image-dimming glasses on. I wouldn't bother unless you're a full on junkie for the format.

What say you?

* We find out her full name is Nancy Loomis in this one. Heh.

** Maybe too much of a deep cut but if Sid was somehow intrinsic to this story, JC Brandy would be the first person I'd call to replace her. It's even part 6 again! And no other series could pull off a meta joke like that and play it straight.


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