Film Review – Scream VI

Scream VI

Scream VI

When the first Scream (1996) was released, it revitalized and recontextualized the horror/slasher genre. It was a self-aware send up, upending the tropes established in the 1980s. The result was such a surprise that it felt like anything could happen – no one was safe, the killer could be someone you knew, and even making smart decisions could leave a person sliced to pieces. Characters knew the story they were in and were still victim to it. It was such a success that the sequels never quite reached the same level of revelation. Even under the hand of horror master Wes Craven, the franchise couldn’t replicate the magic of that first film. By the time we got to Scream 4 (2011), the series felt like it was grasping for air.

That is what makes the latest entry, Scream VI (2023) such an oddity. It tries to have things both ways – as an ode to the past and a fresh new start. The result is a weird middle ground. Its direct predecessor, the awkwardly titled Scream (2022) did a better job with the balancing act. While Scream VI is a meaner and bloodier affair, it also has a messier story, with twists that come out of nowhere. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (along with cowriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick) understand how to execute effective hack and slash scenes, but the satire has evaporated. Now, instead of lampooning the horror-slasher genre, the franchise has become a parody of itself.


There is no better example of this than the scene in which the survivors of the previous film – Samantha (Melissa Barrera), Tara (Jenna Ortega), Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), and Chad (Mason Gooding) – reconvene. The infamous “Ghostface” killer has followed them from Woodsboro to New York City, leaving a trail of bodies. Cinema aficionado Mindy breaks out into a long diatribe about legacy sequels – an obvious parallel to the Jamie Kennedy monologue from the original. But instead of pointing out the rules to break them, this latest version uses the scene merely as foreshadowing. The lighthearted tone, goofy dialogue, and flat visual design sucks out all the dread. Instead of thinking, “Oh no, anything can happen!” the scene plays as though it were explaining what will happen. See the difference?

Which is too bad, because when things shift into traditional horror, the production does a fine job creating scares. The R rating is warranted, with a killer that is about as ferocious as we’ve ever seen. This iteration of Ghostface goes for the gut multiple times. The cinematography (Brett Jutkiewicz) pushes into extreme closeups to witness knives cutting into flesh. But it’s not just the gore that is effective. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett’s combined direction structure moments of tangible suspense. One sequence has a character dangling above a high drop. The camera goes to a high and wide angle, looking straight down to show how close the character is from splattering all over the pavement. There is also a good use of sound design. During a set piece taking place in a grocery store, characters maneuver their way around shattered glass with Ghostface patiently waiting for the slightest crunch to give away their location.

The move from a small suburban town to the mean streets of New York was an inspired choice. Unlike other big-name properties that travel to the Big Apple (I’m lookin’ at you, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes ManhattanScream VI makes the most of its location. One of the best moments takes place in the subway. As the camera looks down the length of the train car, with all types of people dressed in Halloween costumes, the anticipation of another attack becomes palpable. To make matters worse, the flickering lights create a strobe like effect, allowing the killer to weave through the crowd unnoticed. It’s a fun, extended, nearly wordless sequence, where the threat of what’s coming is more terrifying than the attack itself.


If this entry marks a transition from the past to the future, then the production team chose the right actors to carry the torch. Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega have the camaraderie and screen presence to take the reins. We see hints of that already starting to take place. Sisters Samantha and Tara came from Woodsboro and have been traumatized by the Ghostface killings. This is especially true for Samantha, whose experiences linger with her in a way that puts her relationship with Tara in jeopardy. This is a strong foundation to explore. Barrera and Ortega add a level of gravitas to their respective parts, making them far more interesting than your usual “Scream Queens.” 

It’s unfortunate that the film seems obligated to return to familiar names, places, and plot points. Even though these characters call out the tropes of horror franchises, they still go through the machinations of one. The callbacks to the past feel like a lead weight holding the narrative back. The inclusion of Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) makes no sense, as well as the return of Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere), whom we haven’t seen since the aforementioned Scream 4. Samara Weaving’s appearance will undoubtably ring some nostalgic bells but doesn’t rise above mere fan service. This all creates a bizarre mix. How many times must we see characters talking on the phone with Ghostface? How many times must we see them knock the killer down and run away only to be chased again? After six films, haven’t these people learned anything about surviving a slasher film?

Scream VI is good when it acts as an old fashion horror flick. However, doesn’t that go against the entire ideology of the franchise? It would appear we have come full circle, to the point where the series has become the very thing it made fun of over twenty years ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same.




Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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