Review: Scream VI Brings the Horror Franchise to New York as Ghostface Terrorizes a New Generation

As much as I adore most of the films of the late master of horror Wes Craven, I fully admit to being less than enthused about the Scream movies beyond the first two (for the record, Craven directed the first four). With the film production now taken over by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (collectively known as Radio Silence), the fifth and sixth entires in the Scream series have been less about creating original stories and more about mining the history of the franchise. To be fair, a certain amount of mining has aways been a part of Scream, where you not only have to remember what happened in “real life,” where a killer named Ghostface plagued a group of folks from the town of Woodsboro, but you also have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of what happened in the faux Stab franchise that exists in the Scream universe and is meant to be based on the real killings. Confused yet? I’ve seen all six of these movies and I’m still lost.

But of course the real point of the Scream movies is to have the characters test their knowledge of horror films and, more importantly, horror tropes that the killer (or more often, killers) behind the Ghostface mask is either adhering to or subverting. Inevitably, at least one character spells out the current blueprint of horror movies or their sequels, which I think is done to perhaps clue us into who is wielding the knife, but it tends to just confuse the issue even further. With Radio Silence (Ready or Not) back behind the camera, Scream VI takes the four survivors of the last movie—sisters Sam and Tara Carpenter (Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega), film expert Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), and her brother Chad (Mason Gooding, son of Cuba Jr.)—and moves them to New York City, where they are now attending college and trying to move on with their lives, even though the internet has fueled rumors that Sam might actually have been the most recent Woodsboro killer, making her a target for ridicule when she goes out in public.

And sure enough, bodies start dropping right out of the gate, including a particularly nasty gutting of a film professor (Samara Weaving) by Ghostface, though it turns out it's just Tony Revolori behind the mask, pretending to be Ghostface in order to get back at a couple folks he doesn’t like very much. The “real” Ghostface moves in quickly to kill the phony one, and the adventure begins, with the recent four survivors and their New York friends dodging knives and trying to figure out why this iteration of Ghostface is out to get them. Naturally, they have help from legacy characters like reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere, in an unexpected return from 2011’s Scream III), now an FBI agent helping out a local detective (Dermot Mulroney), whose daughter (Liana Liberato) just happens to be Sam’s roommate. They also get help from Sam’s neighbor and new crush, Danny (Josh Segarra), who is so useful and nice, he immediately jumps to the top of the list of suspects.

Getting too deep into the woods that is the plot of Scream VI seems like a fool’s journey, but it’s partly about Ghostface framing Sam to look like the killer by knocking off those around her. But it’s also about once again taking a trip down memory lane through the other films. There is literally a museum to both the real killings and the Stab movies featured in one of the film’s more elaborate set pieces, one that takes us so out of the movie that it practically lifts us into the rafters to just watch the chess pieces move around the board with no emotional attachment to the outcome.

All of that being said, the film defiantly does not hold back on the blood, guts and brutality. When someone gets killed, you know they’re dead…unless they aren’t if it helps the plot in some way. The two rules of Scream VI are: no one’s life is sacred, and it’s really hard to kill certain characters, even if they’ve been stabbed multiple times. There are a couple of wild sequences that don’t always land but at least the filmmakers are doing something different in an effort to distinguish themselves from what Craven did—this is both a good and a bad thing. But these movies have never been about trying to solve a mystery; try as you might, you’ll never figure out who Ghostface is or why he/she is attempting to kill all of Sam’s friends and loved ones. The movie simply doesn’t give you enough information to do so, and if it ever did, you’d probably be able to figure it out in three seconds.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess we aren’t done with this franchise just yet, but nothing about Scream VI made me eager to return even to the best this series has to offer. It’s better than the last film, if only because it doesn’t spend a third of the movie introducing us to new characters and finding ways to weave legacy characters back into this world (as if they ever really left). Frankly, there was too much going on in this latest entry for me to get fully invested, and I think that hurts the movie. Not a complete bust, but I’m ready for the Scream movies to die a dignified death.

The film is now playing in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.