Loud, ludicrous and full of blood and anguish with only a modicum of insight or intelligence, the Scream franchise has long since become what it used to satirize. A copy of a copy of a copy, Scream VI is a degraded photostat lacking all definition, showing only the rough contour of its antecedent but nothing in the interior.
Whatever bite or insight the series used to have has been replaced with replication of its own clichés into an incestual infinity loop. It is everything a Scream fan could want, or at least what the studio hopes they want, with all decisions starting from that standpoint and working backwards rather than from any organic growth or need to say something.
After surviving the attack a year earlier, the Carpenter sisters (Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega) have decamped from California to New York City so that Tara can attend college and Sam can try and keep her safe. Being the child of original ‘Ghostface killer’ Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich), Sam continues to deal with both repressed urges to violence and external stresses of a world that doesn’t believe she is different than her father.
And, of course, another Ghostface (number 10 by the film’s count) pops up to terrorize her surviving friends and family, this time leaving behind the masks of previous killers in an ominous count down. Even with the help of other survivors like horror fan turned FBI agent Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere), Sam and Tara’s time may be running out.
Like a lot of its victims, the Scream franchise remains in a trap of its own making. Built on the idea of acknowledging the tropes of the genre and subverting them through characters’ awareness of being in a slasher film, the series itself has now been around so long it has created its own internal tropes that it must service.
The celebrity cameo must be stalked and killed in the opening scene; the killer must call his/her victims and ask them horror film trivia questions; the killer must come from Sam and Tara’s loose circle of friends and acquaintances with a tenuous (at best) connection to their past; and Ghostface must absorb ridiculous amounts of punishment without ever slowing down or being seen in a crowd in broad daylight.
The film that started as a commentary on slashers and their worst instincts has become the thing that is commented on. The closest it gets to fresh is the opening sequence appears to unmask the killer at the beginning and turn the normal tension on its head through dramatic irony… only to immediately swerve and reveal the new unknown killer instead. The deck chairs, they are being re-arranged.
There does remain something compelling in the idea of heroine Sam being tempted by the violence of her biological father to the point of potentially turning into the killer he was… but the Scream VI does exactly as much with that as it did with the previous film, making occasional teases before darting off to another attack.
There’s no clear development or desire for it from that film… the job of getting people interested in a new batch of characters has been done, now is the time to safely repeat elements until people stop being interested again.
To protect against that, and follow the rules of a ‘requel,’ the filmmakers make sure to shoehorn in what legacy characters they can, including Courteney Cox‘s Gale Weathers, but never have they seemed more horned. They show up occasionally and with only tangential connection to the plot to remind us they exist as did previous entries in the series, and then they disappear again.
More than anything else they illuminate the giant, silent Neve Campbell-shaped hole in the film after the actress walked away from the franchise when Paramount would not pay her a leading actor rate.
As much as the filmmakers try with the remaining characters, no one yet has Campbell’s weight because no one yet is given any real focus at least in part due to the cast’s continued expansion, including a pair of roommates (Jack Champion, Liana Liberato), Mindy’s girlfriend (Devyn Nekoda) and a beleaguered police officer (Dermot Mulroney).
What we’re left with is… a sequel. It’s a film, following in the footsteps of the ones that came before it as if it were tiptoeing through a minefield.
Each step is precisely in line with the step before it, not a hair out of place because any movement off the beaten path could spell disaster. Scream VI plays it safe from beginning to end, praying the whole time that is enough.
SCREAM VI REVIEW SCORE: 5 OUT OF 10
Paramount Pictures will release Scream VI in theaters on Thursday, March 9. The film is rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, and brief drug use.