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‘Scream VI’ Review: Ghostface Strikes Again in the Franchise’s Goriest, Most Meta Entry Yet



Considering that the truly clever meta-ness of the 1996 original has now become curdled with repetition, the Scream The franchise has proven surprisingly durable. By now, the formula is as familiar as the clichéd horror films it satirizes. In between the savage murders committed by Ghostface, the characters knowingly point out the tropes being employed or turned upside-down, providing expert commentary that the audiences could write themselves by now.

And yet, Scream VI will probably prove as popular as most of its predecessors, proving that if you give the people what they want — namely lots and lots of gory stabbings with a little satire thrown in — they will come.

Scream VI

The Bottom Line

Not exactly cutting-edge anymore.

Release date: Friday, March 10
Cast: Melissa Barrera, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Jack Champion, Henry Czerny, Mason Gooding, Roger L. Jackson, Liana Liberato, Dermot Mulroney, Devyn Nekoda, Jenna Ortega, Tony Revolori, Josh Segarra, Samara Weaving, Hayden Panettiere, Courtney Cox
Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Screenwriters: James Vanderbilt, Guy Busick

Rated R, 2 hours 3 minutes

This edition, sporting a Roman numeral in its title for the first time, reunites the four surviving lead characters from its immediate predecessor. And just to spare us the labor of coming up with a nickname for them, one of them provides it himself, dubbing the group the “Core Four.” They consist of Sam (Melissa Barrera), the illegitimate daughter of Billy Loomis, the first killer in the series; her half-sister, Tara (Jenna Ortega, whose star has recently risen thanks to her witty comic turn as the title character in Netflix’s Wednesday); Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), the most franchise-conscious member of the group; and her twin brother, Chad (Mason Gooding).

Shortly after the horrific events of the last film, the quartet has decamped to New York City, although you’d think they would know better since they no doubt have seen Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. They probably thought they were safe because Scream VI was shot entirely in Montreal, with zero effort to make it look anything remotely like the Big Apple. (Sorry, putting up a few fake street and subway signs doesn’t cut it these days.)

Spoiler alert: They’re soon mixing it up with Ghostface again, although he looks somewhat the worse for wear, sporting a visibly aged mask suggesting that 27 years of slashing is starting to take its toll. The co-directors and screenwriters, all veterans of last year’s Scream, up the ante this time. This film is the longest in the series, and seems to contain the most frequent and goriest kills.

What counts for innovation in the series is Ghostface using a shotgun to dispatch one of his victims, which goes to show how low the originality stakes have gotten. Although considering the number of his victims who manage to survive multiple stab wounds to vital organs, it makes you think what he really needs is a good knife sharpener.

As is the series’ wont, this edition brings back several veteran characters, including Courteney Cox’s Gale Weathers, who gets a face-off with Ghostface that proves one of the film’s highlights, and Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby Read, now an FBI agent. Their appearances got big applause from the audience at the screening I attended, who clearly have a soft spot for any character who can survive for more than one film. Although, as an unbilled cameo from another franchise vet demonstrates, being dead is no obstacle to return appearances. The only insurmountable factor would be a failed contract negotiation, but the absence of franchise mainstay Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is treated respectfully here. “She deserves to have a happy ending,” one of the characters comments. And as in all the previous films, Roger L. Jackson, his vocal creepiness seemingly ageless, provides the voice of Ghostface.

There are several new characters, including Chad’s geeky roommate, Ethan (Jack Champion, Avatar: The Way of Water); Sam and Tara’s “sex positive” roommate, Quinn (Liana Liberato); their hunky, frequently shirtless neighbor (Josh Segarra); and a detective (Dermot Mulroney) assigned to the Ghostface killings who develops a very personal stake in tracking him down. Needless to say, any of them could turn out to actually be Ghostface, since the franchise’s whodunnit aspect has become a major ingredient.

The film includes several elaborate set pieces, the best of which is a lengthy sequence in a crowded subway car filled with Halloween-celebrating riders wearing not only Ghostface masks but also ones from numerous other horror film franchises. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett ratchet up the suspense in the scene expertly, even if the results are ultimately less terrifying than simply riding the 6 train at rush hour. There’s also a terrific opening employing the “woman getting a troubling phone call” staple, featuring budding scream queen Samara Weaving (Ready or Not) as an ill-fated university professor who teaches a course on, what else, slasher films.

Screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick admittedly provide some witty dialogue that is a Scream trademark. When Sam has a session with her shrink (Henry Czerny), she describes a past experience thusly: “I stabbed him 22 times and slit his throat. And then I shot him in the head. But that’s not why I’m here.” And as usual, we’re treated to running meta-commentary on such things as the “rules of a continuing franchise,” “sequels to requels,” and — my favorite — Gale’s denial when accused of wanting to turn the group’s travails into a movie. “It’s all about true-crime limited series these days,” she sniffs.

This is a franchise with its head so far up its own back, though, that this installment includes a plot element about a “shrine” to itself, located in an abandoned movie theater and featuring props and other paraphernalia from the films that preceded it. Don’t be surprised if the touring exhibition comes to your city soon.

Ultimately, Scream VI delivers exactly what the fans expect, which is more of the same. To its credit, it seems perfectly happy to deride itself. “Who gives a fuck about movies?” Ghostface exclaims at one point. “Fuck this franchise,” says one of his victims before possibly expiring. What, are they trying to make movie critics obsolete?

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