“Scream VI” Review: Stick A Knife In This Franchise

Even Jenna Ortega can’t save this movie, as the rest of its producers don’t seem to understand what made the first film so successful

“Who gives a fuck about movies?”

You’ll have to pardon my French, and this minor spoiler, but that’s what Ghostface says right before the Scream VI title card slices its way onscreen, and after watching this lazy, largely lifeless sequel, it’s a fair question.

So, let me give you an answer… and some history.

I happen to give a fuck about movies, and if I traced that back to any one movie in particular, it would be the original Scream (1996), which I saw on its opening weekend, alone, when I was 12 years old. I went back the very next weekend with a cassette recorder just to be able to transcribe Kevin Williamson’s amazing dialogue. The point is, I was never the same again. I literally left that theater a changed person. I left wanting to be a writer. Things maybe haven’t gone according to plan, but the fact that I’ve supported myself in this far-too-expensive city for as long as I have can be traced to seeing Scream when it still felt like an incredible secret.

Make no mistake, it took a few weeks for Scream to blow up. The film didn’t have a huge opening weekend; it made $6.3 million before adding just 37 theaters and grossing $9 million its second weekend; it added another $10 million the following weekend.  In Scream’s ninth weekend in theaters, the meta-horror movie still grossed over $3 million, and when weekend grosses eventually dipped under $1 million a month later, it was finally pulled from theaters… only to be re-released just a month after that, grossing more than $1 million for six more weeks. Movies do not have legs like that anymore, and this one became a true pop culture phenomenon. And it was perfectly understandable and well-deserved.

Scream was a brilliant deconstruction of the horror genre that also succeeds in launching a franchise with its own mythology and several enduring characters. It’s a masterpiece, and I’ll gladly debate anyone who claims otherwise. Until recently, I slept beneath a wall of Scream posters, and I still have two such posters in my apartment. Yes, I am 39 years old… and single, ladies…

I am, of course, a reasonable enough fan to be able to admit that the franchise that Ghostface has spawned has gotten progressively worse with each sequel, and it has now reached its uncomfortable nadir with Scream VI, a movie that is truly terrible. As a fan, I beg Spyglass to take the keys away from the filmmaking troupe of Radio Silence, but that seems unlikely, as this installment is slated to have the franchise’s highest opening yet and make a proverbial killing at the box office—especially since producers don’t have to pay mainstays like Neve Campbell and David Arquette this time around.

To be fair, screenwriters Guy Busick and James Vanderbilt concoct a couple of clever sequences in this film—especially a highly effective sequence in the New York City subway—but directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are more interested in gory carnage than true suspense, and that’s where they’ve heeded the wrong lessons. The opening sequence, for example, boasts a clever idea (which I won’t spoil here) but the filmmakers are in such a rush to satisfy the audience’s bloodlust that any build-up is absent, which is where all the fun lies, anyhow.

That’s why the death of Wes (Dylan Minnette) was a highlight of their prior film, Scream (2022), and why the best sequence in Scream VI takes place on the subway; the guys slow down here and give the scene a chance to breathe. The fun is in the cat-and-mouse of it all. Here, rather than subvert expectations, the opening eventually falls prey to them, the sequence climaxing with the line I quoted above, which doesn’t really make any sense by the end of the film, either.

Scream 6
Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega in “Scream 6″/Paramount Pictures

Scream 6

When Scream VI begins, sisters Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) have moved to New York City, where both are studying at the same college along with their old pals, siblings Chad (Mason Gooding) and Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy-Brown). Because they all survived the last film, none of them make very good red herrings, but it’s always possible that one of them could’ve snapped a year later.

The film’s other suspects include Sam’s roommate, Quinn (Liana Liberato), Chad’s roommate, Ethan (Jack Champion), Sam’s neighbor, Danny (Josh Segarra), Sam’s therapist, Dr. Stone (Henry Czerny), a detective played by Dermot Mulroney, and a handful of others, including a familiar face from Scream 4. Courteney Cox is also back, and part of a thrilling sequence that allows her to get physical on screen; she’s otherwise wasted in the thankless role of Gale Weathers.

The biggest problem with these new movies is the unlikable characters, including the so-called “Core Four,” among whom, only Ortega stands out. I just don’t buy Barrera as a serial killer’s nepo-baby who may have inherited his killer instinct; nor do I find Savoy-Brown’s Mindy to be a satisfactory replacement for Jamie Kennedy’s Randy. She feels like someone pretending to be a nerd and reciting a bunch of rules, rather than someone who actually believes them. THe other players find themselves hamstrung by the script, which feels afraid to have the courage of its genre forefathers.

Ultimately, I just don’t find there to be any comparison between the group in the original Scream and the group in this film. One actor in particular practically embarrasses themselves in this movie, as if everyone is trying to one-up Matthew Lillard’s spirited Stu Macher, though I’ll spare them the public flogging. It’ll be obvious.

Scream VI further explores how family members deal with grief and trauma, but its lame reveal has been done before, and it’s so random that it’s practically impossible to see it coming. A good whodunit leaves clues so that by the end, you might actually have a chance to guess the killer yourself. if you’ve been paying attention.

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Scream 6 image via Paramount Pictures

Scream 6

Meanwhile, months ago, I would’ve told you that the Scream franchise could survive — and possibly even thrive — if it was no longer weighed down by Sidney Prescott’s baggage, and yet his movie misses Neve Campbell something fierce. I wish Busick and Vanderbilt could’ve taken more time to craft a better story in her absence, but I imagine they had to rush to meet a release date. After all, it’s hard to blame Spyglass for wanting to strike while the iron’s hot just one year later, just as Scream 2 came out only a year after the original. The difference is that Williamson is a once-in-a-generation talent, with all due respect to Vanderbilt, who will forever be a legend for writing Zodiac.

This movie, however, takes way too long to get going, with a brutally slow first act, but regardless and as always, a film like this all comes down to the reveal. The folks making these movies, on a fundamental level, do not seem to understand what made Scream work. It wasn’t the gnarly kills, it was the killer idea. It was the taunting phone calls and the trivia and the idea that your friend, or better yet, your boyfriend, could be stalking you after killing your mother.

Spyglass is already reportedly working on Scream 7, and based on this weekend’s box office receipts, I can’t say it’s not a likely-profitable move, but I really hope they hire someone else to take the story in a new direction, whether it be new writers or new directors. I mean, sure, they can pack this movie to kingdom come with cool easter eggs that are fun to talk about in interviews, but can they tell a satisfying story from beginning to end? Based on what I’ve seen from the disappointing Scream (2022) and now Scream VI, the answer is no, they can’t.

Even when I’m Mr. Contrarian who goes after movies that most critics love, I hope you can tell from my reviews that I still give a fuck about movies. Whether I still give a fuck about this franchise that defined part of my life and set me on this course as a writer is another question entirely. For the very sake of my childhood memories, please stick a knife in these movies already. They’re beyond done, and in need of a top-down reinvention.

Grade: D+

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