Producers: William Sherak, James Vanderbilt and Paul Neinstein Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett Screenplay: James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick 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 and Courtney Cox Distributor: Paramount Pictures
It’s axiomatic that sequels to franchise horror movies have to get gaudier and evermore over-the-top to capture fans’ attention another time. That was certainly the case with the first round of the “Scream” slasher series which ran for three installments between 1996 and 2000 before being exhumed for a fourth outing in 2011. It also apples to this first sequel to the so-called “requel” of 2022, which was simply called “Scream” again, like the 1996 picture.
It’s not merely that “Scream VI”—the first in the series to use a Roman rather than Arabic number, perhaps to distinguish it from the first quadrilogy—is, at 123 minutes, longer than any of its predecessors (though not, admittedly, by much). It’s that it has more bodies and more gore, though fewer laughs and genuine scares. It also boasts a solution to the perennial question of “who’s behind the mask?” that’s more convoluted and absurd than those in any of the earlier installments (which is saying quite a lot), explained in a final confrontation that frankly seems to go on forever.
What it does not have, however, is the star who until now has tied all the movies together—Neve Campbell as the archetypal last girl standing, Sidney. With Campbell reportedly opting out over salary issues, her character’s absence is explained in a throwaway bit of dialogue that leaves open the possibility of her reappearance at some future date.
There are, however, other returnees from the 2022 reboot. Four are young survivors, half-sisters Samantha and Tara Carpenter (Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega). Tara has come to New York City to study at Blackmore College, and Sam to protect her. Also on hand are twins Mindy and Chad Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding). She’s the expert on horror movies who can provide all the self-referential data on the genre the series is famous for, and he’s the hunky good guy. And though Sidney is AWOL, a couple of older survivors return: Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere), a youngster from “Scream 4” who’d become an FBI agent in the previous film, and author-broadcaster Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), who’s been a series staple since the 1996 original. Skeet Ulrich even makes an appearance as a spectral Billy Loomis. (Series fans will recognize all these folks; first-time viewers should probably study up before coming to the theatre.)
There are newbies, too. Several are roomies: Quinn (Liana Liberato) shares an apartment with Sam and Tara and Anika (Devyn Nekoda) is Mindy’s significant other, while Ethan (Jack Champion) is Chad’s dorm mate. Sam, meanwhile, is involved with Danny (Josh Segarra), the handsome guy down the hall, and is seeing a psychiatrist (Henry Czerny) in an attempt to deal with her trauma, which stems not only from her experiences in the previous film but an online campaign accusing her of murder since then. Veteran Dermot Mulroney shows up as Quinn’s father, a police detective; it’s amazing how much he’s come to resemble Mel Gibson.
It would be improper to reveal too much about the convolutions of the plot; suffice it to say that violence is always around the corner and the issue of who’s behind the Ghostface mask (or masks, since those from previous installments are part of the puzzle) is constantly front and center. There’s a plethora of killings here—most involve knives, but firearms make occasional appearances as well, and returning directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett show considerable skill in choreographing them, with a few outstanding episodes. One is the obligatory opening telephone call, here involving a university professor of film studies (Samara Weaving) and the blind date she’s awaiting at a trendy but difficult-to-find bar, which is cheekily staged but, in the end, a diversionary tactic featuring one of her students (Tony Revolori). Another is a protracted confrontation between Ghostface and Weathers. But the best is an amusing sequence set on a subway car crammed with Halloween revelers, many of whom are wearing the masks of scary movie monsters—not just Ghostface but Jason and Michael Myers. It goes on rather long, but generates a genuine sense of menace and suspense, rare in today’s horror movies, where the quick cut-and-slash is usually the norm.
There is a problem, however, here and elsewhere (especially the exposition-filled finale), with the victims of attacks. Some stay dead but others don’t, frequently popping back up after suffering what would seem certain fatal wounds. It’s a trope that grows increasingly tiresome as the plot careens on, reaching a climax that strains logic, never a strong point in “Scream” movies to begin with, well past the breaking point. If there is yet another sequel—as seems likely—the writers will have a hard time outdoing the absurdity of what’s offered this time around.
Still, there doubtlessly will be a “Scream VII,” and there will be a number of survivors from this installment to populate it. No fair specifying which, but it isn’t unfair to say that it’s a relatively small number. For the moment it’s enough to point out that all the cast in this movie acquit themselves well enough. It’s true that these are hardly actors’ showcases—they call for a degree of drooling excess that would usually be derided but in such fare is de rigeuer—and both veterans and newcomers happily comply with expectations. So do the technical crew: production designer Michele Laliberte may not be able to transform Montreal, where the movie was shot, into a convincing stand-in for NYC, but she does a good job creating what amounts to a fans’ museum of bric-a-brac from previous installments in the series, while cinematographer Brett Jutkiewicz and editor Jay Prychidny collaborate with the directors in crafting those shrewd action set-pieces, even if the energy sags toward the close. The score by Sven Faulconer and Brian Tyler is predictably frantic.
The studio has asked critics to avoid spoilers in their reviews, but one is irresistible. So SPOILER ALERT: “Scream VI” will probably satisfy series devotees, but proves that any originality that the 1996 movie possessed is long gone. These movies are now effectively nothing more than parodies of themselves, and parodies of parodies are eventually a dead end in more ways than one.