Written by: Matt Patti | March 9th, 2023
Scream VI (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin/Tyler Gillett, 2023) 3 out of 4 stars.
When it was announced that scream queen Neve Campbell did not sign on for the Scream franchise’s sixth installment, there was a collective panic amongst diehard fans, this writer included. Campbell plays Sidney Prescott in the franchise’s first five entries, the main protagonist and center focus of almost all of the Scream films up to this point, though she played a lesser role in 2022’s Scream. How could a Scream movie not feature Prescott, the centerpiece of the entire franchise? While I was a bit worried, I was still open to the possibility that Scream VI could still succeed, especially since I did enjoy the 2022 Scream and directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett were back helming this one. Surprisingly, my hopes for a successful film are not only realized, but exceeded, as Scream VI proves to be one of the most impressive sequels of the now long-running Scream franchise, even with Sidney’s absence.
In Scream VI, Tara (Jenna Ortega, X) and Sam (Melissa Barrera, In the Heights) Carpenter are living in New York City, having fled Woodsboro after the events of the last film. Joining them are Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sound of Violence) and Chad (Mason Gooding, Fall) Meeks-Martin, twins who also survived the events of the last film who are joining Tara at the same college in the city. Tara is trying to move on with her life, putting previous trauma behind her and enjoying her new surroundings. However, Sam is taking the opposite route, choosing to get therapy in an attempt to process events of the last year. Sam is also trying her hardest to protect Tara, even overstepping her bounds at times and becoming downright invasive in Tara’s life. Sam doubles down on her efforts to protect Tara once a classmate of Tara’s is discovered dead at the hands of a new Ghostface, who leaves behind evidence of a previous killer’s mask. Sam, Tara, Mindy, and Chad begin to wonder if this death has anything to do with them. However, as more and more bodies begin to fall and the victims become closer and closer to the foursome, they must protect each other at all costs if they’re to make it out alive again.
Scream VI is able to accomplish what many other sequels fail to do: weaving together legacy and new characters seamlessly. So many horror sequels bring back characters from older installments but don’t know what to do with them or, worse, ruin their legacy by having them take actions that are the opposite of how the characters operated in earlier films. Other than the new cast that was introduced in last year’s Scream, Scream VI brings back franchise stalwart and cut-throat reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) as well as another, less prevalent character from an earlier film that I wish not to reveal, though the official trailers already spoil the surprise. Scream VI is able to add to these characters’ legacies by introducing some new situations and stakes for these characters to deal with, while being careful not to overstep their bounds and take an unnecessary risk with an already beloved character. Scream VI rides this fine line perfectly, paying homage to the original films and the characters of those films without ruining it.
While Scream VI’s treatment of legacy characters is pleasantly surprising, it is the returning new cast from the previous film that truly impresses here. Scream VI does a far better job of fleshing out these new characters than its predecessor, as we get to spend much more time with Sam, Tara, Mindy, and Chad and see that these are not just disposable bodies in a slasher film, but layered characters that the audience cares for and wants to keep around. The performances from each of the cast members in the “core four” (as they call themselves in the film) are all a notch above what we got last year, but Melissa Barrera especially makes a big jump. I did not care for her performance in the 2022 Scream, but she improves greatly in Scream VI. All of the characters, whether legacy or new, are quite compelling and also very intelligent, making clever decisions throughout and fighting their hardest to stay alive while also caring for each other.
Scream VI also offers a great balance of humor and horror, as many of its predecessors do, but with more of a focus on sheer horror and intense emotional exploration with some bits of the usual funny meta-humor that defines the franchise. As usual, there’s a scene where the film nerd, Mindy, delivers a speech about the rules of surviving a horror movie, and these rules are referenced throughout, creating some humorous moments. But what really impresses me about Scream VI is the tension achieved through many suspenseful scenes. Prolonged tension has been missing in some more recent entries, but in this film, there are several intense, edge-of-your seat sequences that are very well-crafted. The setting of New York City adds to the suspense, and the environment is used wisely. The film offers some out-of-the-box, creative kills as well, which can be difficult to accomplish this late in a franchise.
There are some aspects of Scream VI that leave a bit to be desired. These include how the conclusion/motive plays out, the underuse of some newly introduced characters, and some logical questions that come to mind. However, for the sixth sequel in a horror franchise, I think this film is far better than anyone could have asked for, exceeds expectations, and is an improvement on its predecessor. Directors Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are exceptional at pleasing franchise enthusiasts, new fans, and the casual moviegoer all at once. With intriguing characters, thrilling sequences, and just the right amount of horror and self-aware jokes thrown in without overdoing it, Scream VI undoubtedly succeeds, even without the franchise’s most beloved character.