Previously on Scream: I’d given up on Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven’s meta-horror series after the trilogy-capping Scream 3 sunk into chaotic, anti-postmodern soap-operatics back in 2000 sans creator Williamson. In recent times the horror genre in general hasn’t been a frequent go-to for me, but in 2022 curiosity about the fourth and fifth ones got to me when they showed up in my streaming subscriptions and outshone #3 by a wide margin. Thoughts regarding the fifth one:
The meta-META-prologue neatly and hilariously resets the stage and tone, the stabby-stabby is not always kind toward those we assumed were untouchable, and once again the killers’ motives are perceptively Too Real. My chief nitpick is one character’s sad attempt to make the term “requel” happen. STOP TRYING TO MAKE IT HAPPEN. A “requel” is a just a sequel that had to wait a decade or more for another generation to pick up the baton and sprint with it. Now that Craven is no longer with us, successor directors Matt Bellinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are more than poised to hold that baton high and poke some eyes out with it.
The same directing duo returns with Scream VI, another round of dancing with one or more devils in the pale moonlight, who may or may not have favorite scary movies. The scenery is all-new and the knives are sharper than ever, but the meta-commentary that makes or breaks every episode’s whodunit solution could’ve used a few more strokes against the whetstone.
All the survivors of #5 are back, nicknaming themselves “the Core 4” and living in New York City: Tara (Jenna Ortega, now the star of Wednesday), big sister Sam (Melissa Barrera from In the Heights), and the brother/sister duo of Chad (Mason Gooding, Raffi’s estranged son from TV’s Picard) and Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown from Yellowjackets), the nephew and niece of Jamie Kennedy’s murdered horror-geek Randy Meeks, this entire series’ self-aware soul. Now they’re all students at a fictional university, though Sam is mostly there to babysit Tara and micromanage her entire life to keep her safe, while trying to ignore the ghost of her father Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) in her head. Far from Woodsboro they assume they’re living their Happily Ever After. If you’re the Final Girl (or Final Teens) in a horror series, that’s not what you get to do.
After the requisite stage-setting prologue of creepy horror-geekery phone-chat disconnected from the main storyline (which, for a change, later proves not-so-unrelated), the media runs amuck with the shock of new Ghostface killings that have followed Our Heroes to Manhattan. Also in a related story, a groundswell of extremely online suckers buy into false rumors that Sam herself was Scream 5‘s real murderer. In a less jaded bygone era, a tale of one woman struggling to maintain her innocence in the face of baldfaced lies might’ve been a fresh frontier if a hundred TV-movies over the decades hadn’t already covered it and if “fake news” weren’t an exhausted ex-hot topic.
Nevertheless, the Core 4 are forced to go on the defense once more and discern which among them are the Real Killer(s). Is it the old cast or one of the rookies? No suspect can be easily ruled out according to Mindy, the inheritor of Uncle Randy’s horrorsplainer mantle who tried to make “requel” happen and realizes they’ve gone from living in a mere maniacs’ milieu to a full-blown Franchise, which carries its own rules. She’s a more engaging theorist this time around, but her material might feel funnier if Film Twitter hadn’t manifested to have exactly such conversations everyday since inception.
Once again the most dangerous game is afoot. To say too much more, especially to compliment specific performances, risks spoilers. The directors make the most of Manhattan as their new playground with all its narrow alleys and even narrower apartments. The whole place is basically made of perfect tiny kill-boxes where no one cares if you scream. This is not the inspirational NYC community where our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man can count on bystanders to watch his back. We’re reminded of that bleak reality in one savage encounter in a bodega that’s less a slasher-flick duel than an inner-city crime-drama set piece. Adding bigger guns to the NPC arsenal makes little difference against a nimble foe who can slink around shadowy corners and jump-scare from nowhere. It doesn’t help that of course it’s Halloween and Ghostface masks are all the rage, so Our Heroes have even more cause for anxiety…as if everyone around them weren’t already suspicious enough. As we learn time and again, costumed masks are sometimes more revealing than the natural masks we can sport.
As one expects (and sometimes dreads) from a Franchise, the stakes are bigger and the action is bolder, riskier, far stabbier and higher-budgeted than its somewhat safer predecessor. (What kind of Ghostface lets four targets live?) We also get more Scream Easter eggs than ever, which in this case become integral plot components that Our Heroes can’t help duly cataloging for us. As slasher-films go, Scream VI is efficiently terror-fraught and nerve-wracking from start to finish (despite its two-hour runtime) in every expertly choreographed confrontation, from a rickety ladder suspended between high-rise windows to those infamously spooky subways to the Upper East Side to the abandoned theater (as in “closed”, not as in “post-pandemic low-attendance”) where someone’s paid rent to set up the Grand Guignol finale. Less inured viewers may find themselves wondering exactly how many dozens of stab wounds a victim can survive, but compared to its non-meta genre brethren, this sequel crisply aces the basics, which might be fine if that’d been the extent of my hopes.
As for the whodunit solution itself: after Mindy’s Franchise tutorial I wondered to myself how the killer-reveal might go if, say, Colin Trevorrow were directing. Later I chuckled ruefully to see my jokey prophecy technically fulfilled. The finale raises eyebrows and logistical questions that only an encore screening might clear up, or perhaps make everything more implausibly laughable. The ultimate motive in particular is a letdown that eschews meta-commentary entirely in favor of one of the oldest in the book. Like many a Franchise, all the bigger twists and louder impacts can’t hide the old-fashioned components in the gearbox. Some collectors know old engine parts can give you power and speed just fine, but is dousing them in new-car smell worth the cost of the aerosol can?
Meanwhile in the customary MCC film breakdowns:
Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: Other returning survivors include Friends‘ Courtney Cox as former TV personality Gale Weathers, still hoping to cash in and be a hero at the same time, who at long last (in one of the most flat-out fun sequences) has her very first Ghostface phone-chat; Heroes‘ Hayden Panetierre, who made it out of Scream 4 to grow up and join the FBI; and Roger L. Jackson, the iconic Ghostface-filter voice.
New castmates/suspects include classic ’80s rom-com second-fiddle Dermot Mulroney as a police detective; Liana Liberato (star of Hulu’s teen-horror series Light as a Feather) as a roommate and Mulroney’s daughter; fellow roomie Jack Champion (that annoying Spider from Avatar: The Way of Water), who’s just kind of there; Devyn Nekoda (Ginny & Georgia) as Mindy’s girlfriend; Josh Segarra (from the law firm of She-Hulk, Attorney-at-Law) as a hunky neighbor who looks like he could drive a butcher knife through solid bone; and Henry Czerny (from the same directors’ Ready or Not) as an unhelpful psychiatrist.
The requisite prologue welcomes two special guests: Ready or Not star Samara Weaving and Grand Budapest Hotel star Tony Revolori, a.k.a. Spider-Man’s #1 fan Flash Thompson. Blink and you’ll miss Jesse Camacho from Netflix’s horror-comic adaptation Locke and Key (Doug from the “Savini Squad”) as a frat-partygoer with a single shouted line.
How about those end credits? To answer the burning question that MCC is always happy to verify: yes, there is indeed a scene after the Scream VI end credits. For those who tuned out prematurely and really want to know, and didn’t already click elsewhere…
[…insert space for courtesy spoiler alert in case anyone needs to abandon ship…]
…we return for two seconds to Mindy’s Franchise monologue for a bonus snarky opinion: “NOT EVERY MOVIE NEEDS A POST-CREDITS SCENE!” And cut to black.
(I wouldn’t call it a “need”. It’s more like a perk. Who doesn’t like perks?)