It’s certainly fair to bemoan the glut of franchises that are dominating Hollywood these days, if for no other reason than that they’re crowding out more original films. However, “Scream VI” makes a strong argument that when the movies are this entertaining and well done, they can’t simply be waived off or easily condemned. The many sequels of the ‘80s and ‘90s found diminishing returns (and shrinking budgets) that led to increasingly worse movies as the various series went along, but recent franchises like “Scream,” “Fast & Furious” and “Creed” (to name a few) offer compelling evidence that this is no longer the case, as these titles are well-funded and strongly cast, with more imagination (and even heart) being deployed in each new entry. That doesn’t absolve these movies of their sins, but “Scream VI,” with its excellent execution and only slight flaws, makes it much harder to dismiss as a waste of time.
The four survivors of the last Woodsboro massacre have all moved to New York City together to escape their hometown and its traumatic events. Even in their new surroundings, though, they are finding new difficulties. Sam (Melissa Barrera) is now being targeted online as the true mastermind behind the latest Woodsboro killings, while her sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) bristles under Sam’s overprotective ways. Tara is just trying to enjoy college life with her friends Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding), but when very familiar murders begin to occur, with the killer leaving behind the masks of the previous Ghostface killers at every murder scene, the group once again finds themselves in peril.
“Scream VI” delivers in basically every way that one would want from a “Scream” film. The suspense is carefully crafted and inventively harrowing. The kills are suitably brutal, with the victims competently fighting back before being dispatched in gory fashion. The humor lands fairly well, occasionally feeling forced but mostly being at least smirk-worthy. The melodrama is well-executed by the talented cast, who are each dealing with their own crises. And the horror references are absolutely on point, with so many winks and visual nods that it’s basically an issue of “Fangoria” on screen. If you liked the last installment, then you will probably love “Scream VI.”
Even amidst all its self-aware humor, grisly deaths and compelling sequences, the movie finds time to acutely deal with the topic of trauma. It feels like every major horror film of the past five years has been about the lasting effects of horrific situations or the lingering torment that comes from generational inflictions of pain. “Scream VI” isn’t strictly about this, but the film addresses the reality that trauma is not in the past but instead constantly happening. While the traumatic event occurred years back, the survivors must relive the moment repeatedly to the point that it feels like that is how their life will be defined from now on. It extends outward like a never-ending movie franchise, with a boogeyman that refuses to die no matter how many times they’re shot in the head. The original event is a static moment in time, but the echoes of it ring throughout the years. This adds a stronger emotional layer that runs throughout, creating a genuine rumination while a masked slasher terrorizes a city in spectacular fashion.
Returning directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett made a film that reflects a new surrounding and sense of stakes while somehow retaining the vibe of the “Scream” franchise. The last time a slasher sequel went to New York (“Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan”) was… not great. Taking on that challenge, the directors find ways of utilizing the surroundings to not only create new obstacles for their characters but also inform the tone of the movie itself. Similarly, writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick have created an excellent hybrid of the past and present that offers up fan service but rarely at the expense of its newer characters. The comedy isn’t flawless, with some real groaners and awkward gags thrown in, but when it works, it leads to some genuinely funny moments.
However, both teams drop the ball a bit in other areas. The motive for the slayings is both obvious and fairly convoluted, with some red herrings and clues not working as well (or seemingly as clever) as the screenwriters may have thought. That reveal makes for a bit of a deflated moment — similar to most “Scream” movies, really — but luckily, the action ramps up soon after. Where the directors falter, along with DP Brett Jutkiewicz, is in the decision to color-grade the film way too dark and gray. Presumably, this is meant to give it a somber tone and reflect the new concrete jungle in which our protagonists live, but it’s overdone and lacks the bright pops of color found in Wes Craven’s original installments. There are also some odd performance choices that lead to flat exchanges, as well as moments of overacting that seem out of left field (but, one hopes, meant to be intentionally funny).
“Scream VI” is not a perfect movie, but it’s probably the second-best “Scream” film. With the lack of Neve Campbell (her absence waved off with a single line of dialogue) and David Arquette, there’s a lot less of the legacy stuff shoehorned into the movie. That’s an impressive feat given how much of the plot references what came before. Bettinelli-Olpin, Gillett and company deliver exactly what audiences want from the franchise without simply giving them more of the same. While it may seem ridiculous that we could be getting a seventh installment, it’s hard to argue against more “Scream” when the sixth one is so damn entertaining.
Starring: Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Courtney Cox, Hayden Panettiere, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Josh Segarra, Jack Champion, Dermont Mulroney
Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett