Scream 6 (2023)

When horror franchises dramatically shift their locations to somewhere new, like New York City, it’s usually a bad sign that the series is desperately looking for new creative life. Not every franchise can rebound like a Leprechaun in Space. Most of them just become another Jason Takes Manhattan, where now instead of Character Group A running and dying from the masked killer, it’s now Character Group B running and dying from the same masked killer. It’s more reminiscent of cartoons where the backgrounds might change but the on screen events are stuck in the same drab routines. The Scream franchise was rebooted with 2022’s satisfying fifth installment, so I hoped that a sixth Scream could at least exceed where so many others have failed. Those hopes were quickly fulfilled in what I consider to be one of the best sequels of the seminal slasher series with all of its air-quote irony.

There are more than a few entertaining new turns as the bloody hi-jinks head to the Big Apple. It feels bloodier and gorier than most of the Scream movies, but it also has well-developed suspense sequences that work extremely well at making you squirm. Every brutal burst of violence elicited a “oomph” exhalation from me, and I found myself tensing up as the initial scene constructions transformed. I was quite enjoying myself from set piece to set piece. Take for instance an escape that requires the characters to flee from one high-rise window to another across an alley via a rickety ladder. Or take a subway escape packed with masked Halloween revelers to make you paranoid who among the many Ghostfaces might be the potential killer (I enjoyed the other costumes of horror old and new – I saw you Midsommar May Queen). Even a hide and seek sequence inside a convenience store can be thrilling. All credit to returning Scream 5 directors Matt Bettinelli-Opin and Tyler Gillet, the same pair that delivered 2019’s wonderfully twisted Ready or Not. These gentlemen have proven that they know how to squeeze the most tension from any scenario no matter how bizarre. I loved that the opening kill (Ready or Night alum Samara Weaving) goes in a different direction, revealing the culprit right away, and then it goes in even another direction. There are still some new cool tricks to be had with the sixth installment in a 27-year-old horror series.

I was asked if you had to watch any of the prior Scream movies to enjoy Scream 6, and while it’s not necessary, you will be missing out on some of the larger connective tissue and themes. You should definitely have familiarity with Scream 5 since it’s a direct sequel and continuation of the core (four) characters. I was surprised how much more emotional resonance I found with the Carpenter sisters than any of the other characters, new or legacy, from the earlier movies. I think it was smart having Sam (Melissa Barrera) be the daughter of the first Ghostface as was her seeing visions of her late father, this time as an adult Skeet Ulrich, which might have been the wrong choice considering the character never lived to be this age (is her imagination doing one of those age approximations you see for runaway kids?). Our lead heroine is trying to navigate where her instincts are taking her, which might be a darker path that she feels trepidation about ignoring for only so long. Sam’s therapist balks when he discovers her actual parentage, which makes him maybe the worst therapist. Her relationship with her younger sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) is more complex than any of the close friendships of Sydney Bristow. Even with all the carnage and bloodshed, Scream 6 still finds breather moments to let the sisters react realistically to their dilemma and how it affects their own relationship. I’m glad these characters returned because they serve as the emotional focal point of an otherwise famously glib franchise.

The biggest drawback from Scream 6 is the tacit understanding that this will not be the final film in the franchise given its box-office success, the first film to cross the $100 million-dollar threshold since 1997’s Scream 2. This feels like a culminating climax as the characters now view their lives not as their own but as part of a “franchise,” which means the stories will keep going on beyond them and that nobody is safe, not even the “leads.” For a series entrenched in heavy meta-textual irony, it feels like it’s reaching the end of its genre self-awareness cycle when the movie acknowledges itself as its own IP. The scope of the movie is retrospective, not just reaching back and acknowledging the history of where things began for the legacy characters but for every movie. Each one of the former Ghostfaces is being collected and commented upon, with murder nerd Easter eggs left at each crime scene or in its contextual arrangement. It’s the kind of totality that I would expect from a movie franchise coming to an end, and nodding at its various twists and turns, finding places to even include elements from the lesser beloved Scream sequels. There’s even an unspoken satirical jab at the number of characters that miraculously survive, as if the film is throwing up its hands and saying why not, as if this is the last movie and the rules of who survives and who dies are inconsequential because we’re subverting expectations, as we’ve been explicitly told, so expect the unexpected.

The other aspect of this drawback involves some slight spoilers but I’ll try and tread lightly. After our genre-savvy movie geek explains the stakes of this new episode, the characters start to review one another as potential suspects, and the new supporting characters even cast an accusing eye on the returning characters saying they could have cracked from their trauma. There’s emphasis on the drive to subvert expectations and break away from the patterns of old.

And here is where I’ll venture into some light spoilers so if you want to skip ahead to the next paragraph, please do so, dear reader. There is an ongoing thread where an Internet subculture has re-framed the Carpenter sisters as the real villains of their own horrendous story, and it’s an intriguing element that brings the echo chambers and confirmation bias and novice sleuths-in-the-making of the Internet to further examination. It’s reminiscent of any bottom-feeding conspiracy that asks people to pick apart their reality for “the real story” magically hidden in plain sight. The Scream franchise is famous for its fun guessing game of who the real killers could be from our gallery of suspects, and Scream 6 is no exception. However, the subversion that could have really separated this Scream from its elders is by having the killers actually be… nobodies (the Rian Johnson twist). What if the mask comes off and it’s a brand new character? I’m sure many viewers would feel like they had been betrayed, but then the point emerges that it’s simply some conspiracy theorist who has gone full-tilt crazy into the cult and taken matters into their own hands, attempting to hold “the real killers” to account or to prove they were truly guilty. And the larger point is that the “fake news” has already won out. It doesn’t matter what happens from here, what news coverage should stamp out ignorance, because you can’t pull every cult member out of their self-inflicted cocoon of delusion, which means there will always be more to take their place. That’s the legacy of what has transpired, that there will never be a real escape any longer. I thought that would be such a jarring and thematically intriguing and summative ending.

For the many fans of the slasher series, I believe Scream 6 retains plenty of the same pleasures of its prior movies while stretching out into new and interesting directions. It helps that I cared about the central sisters, at least enough by the low bar of horror movie standards. It’s bloody, fun, twisty, and satisfying enough that it could have served as a capper for the entire franchise. But it won’t be. I look forward to this new creative team re-evaluating trilogies better than Scream 3 did. In the meantime, this is a bloody good time to be had for long-term fans and newcomers from the 2022 reboot alike.

Nate’s Grade: B


About natezoebl

One man. Many movies. I am a cinephile (which spell-check suggests should really be "epinephine"). I was told that a passion for movies was in his blood since I was conceived at a movie convention. While scientifically questionable, I do remember a childhood where I would wake up Saturday mornings, bounce on my parents' bed, and watch Siskel and Ebert's syndicated TV show. That doesn't seem normal. At age 17, I began writing movie reviews and have been unable to stop ever since. I was the co-founder and chief editor at (2007-2014) and now write freelance. I have over 1400 written film reviews to my name and counting. I am also a proud member of the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA) since 2012. In my (dwindling) free time, I like to write uncontrollably. I wrote a theatrical genre mash-up adaptation titled "Our Town... Attacked by Zombies" that was staged at my alma mater, Capital University in the fall of 2010 with minimal causalities and zero lawsuits. I have also written or co-written sixteen screenplays and pilots, with one of those scripts reviewed on industry blog Script Shadow. Thanks to the positive exposure, I am now also dipping my toes into the very industry I've been obsessed over since I was yea-high to whatever people are yea-high to in comparisons.

Posted on March 22, 2023, in 2023 Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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