It’s tough to carry on after losing your heart. Scream VI is the first without original survivor Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who was the core of the series for 26 years. In many ways this film feels her loss, but new franchise guardians Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett conjure up enough inventive kills and clever ideas to convince that Scream could, like many horror sagas, have a life beyond its foundational cast. It doesn’t entirely convince that it should, but it makes a case for how it could.
Following the deadly events of 2022 in Woodsboro, California (Scream's original fictional hometown), Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega) have moved to Manhattan, where Tara is attending college, along with fellow survivors Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding). Sam has tagged along to keep an eye on her sister, who she worries is not dealing with the trauma they suffered. (Sam’s not terribly good therapist might call this 'projection'.) Sam is also living with the horror that not everyone believes she’s a victim. A pernicious rumour is going around that she framed her ex, Richie (Jack Quaid), for murders she in fact committed herself. Because the internet loves a conspiracy theory, the rumour has taken hold. When someone starts slicing and dicing through NYC, Sam is immediately on the suspect list.
A train full of Ghostfaces and a furious face-off for Gale Weathers are highlights.
Two movies in, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett have certainly found a style that is distinct from the Wes Craven films. Their kills are nastier — not just bloodier, but more violent. The murders in Craven’s films were part of a master plan, little missions to be completed to make the final monologue add up. The kills here feel committed for the pleasure of killing. They’re less giggly than Craven’s; more straightforwardly horrifying. The directors have been served up some very creative sequences by returning writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick; a train full of Ghostfaces on Halloween and a furious face-off for Gale Weathers (sole returning original Courteney Cox) are highlights.
When it’s not slashing, it’s less sure what to do with itself. Barrera and Ortega are hugely likeable as the new central characters, but the film overcooks its attempt to make them matter. Tara’s determination not to live in fear is smart and interesting; Sam’s worry that she’s too like her dad, less so. Sidney’s story was always simple: she wanted to move on but was terrorised by people who couldn’t. Over-complicating things is Scream VI’s weakness. The journey to unmasking Ghostface involves some unconvincing grabs from all over the franchise and strained attempts to explain that there are rules to the second film in a reboot (there aren’t). If the series wants to continue it should perhaps free itself from the belief that it has to upend the genre every time. It’s still far more inventive and entertaining than most horror franchises of a similar vintage. Scream VI is at its best when it's not trying to rewrite the rules — but just throws them out and has fun.