Friday, March 10, 2023


 by Rob DiCristino

Or: The One Without Sidney

Spoilers for the Scream franchise ahead.

My long-held official position on the Scream sequels is that there should be no Scream sequels. Wes Craven’s original 1996 horror masterpiece was released at — and, indeed, written entirely as a commentary on — the cusp of a new millennium, the final waning hours of a pre-internet age that couldn’t possibly have imagined just how snarky and postmodern our pop cultural landscape was about to become. Sidney and the rest of screenwriter Kevin Williamson’s motley crew represented a dying breed of Hollywood archetypes, stock slasher teens who had lived long enough to grow frustrated with their own banality and crave new purpose somewhere beyond the fourth wall. Scream’s genius wasn’t just in its self-reflexivity, though; It wasn’t enough to simply point out the tropes and cliches that had made the genre so predictable. No, the genius was in its ability to lure horror hounds into a false sense of security before upending expectations with new twists — and, more importantly, lessons — that not even the most learned experts among them could see coming.
By 2022’s soft reboot Scream, however, the franchise had lost that innovative spirit, trying and largely failing to replace that initial genius with longer and longer message board monologues and some undercooked lore that seemed to misunderstand the simplicity of purpose that made the original characters so special in the first place. 2022’s entry endeavors to start fresh, introducing us to Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), illegitimate daughter of Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich, returning in digitally de-aged hallucinations) and the Meeks siblings (Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown as Chad and Mindy, respectively), relatives of Jamie Kennedy’s Randy. Sam’s half-sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) rounds out the next generation, and together they get their Force Awakens on, teaming with the legacy trinity against an enemy whose antisocial tendencies led to a violent misunderstanding of the original text. Scream VI picks up the following year, with our heroes in college. Yup, we’re doing Scream 2 again.

At least returning directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett know that we know that they know that we think we know what to expect this time around, immediately doing everything they can do play with our expectations: Opening Scream VI with a Double Barrymore is a nice touch, as is bringing in Scream 4’s Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettierre), now an FBI agent fixated on Ghostface cases. She joins our Core Four in New York City, where Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) investigates a Ghostface who leaves DNA of previous killers at crime scenes and keeps a shrine of franchise artifacts in a creepy downtown warehouse. As Ghostface #10 gets to work building a reputable body count, Sam and Tara — at odds over their differing strategies for coping with trauma — lead a gang of survivors more world-weary and self-aware than any Scream lineup that came before them. Good thing, too: They’ll need every bit of that savvy to defeat the killer(s?!) running wild in the concrete jungle where dreams are made of.
And boy, do I mean wild. Scream VI finds Ghostface hacking into skulls, shotgunning bodega owners, and dropping Zoomers out of third story windows, making it easily the goriest entry in recent memory. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett make a real meal out of their urban setting, too, using the flickering lights and claustrophobic paranoia of a New York subway train for one particularly effective Halloween attack. 2022 scribes James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick return in fine form, delivering a much cleaner screenplay that largely dispenses with the old guard — David Arquette’s Dewey was killed off last time, and Neve Campbell refused to settle for whatever insulting pittance she was offered to return — and lets the new kids take firm ownership of the franchise. Though Melissa Barrera does her best to approximate Campbell’s wan detachment, it’s It Girl Jenna Ortega who steals the show this time, injecting the film with a vibrant wit and contagious energy that not even the bloodiest mayhem could possibly hope to match.
And with all due respect, those highlights will be more than enough for hardcore franchise fans, most of whom will be so titillated by the Scream memorabilia tour — remember the TV that killed Stu? The Top Story cameraman’s jacket? They’re back! — they won’t care that the well-intentioned legacy subplot doesn’t actually add up to much or that the trademark “rules” diatribe — this one tackling the cynicism of ongoing IP — fails yet again to have actual narrative efficacy and exists solely to shield lazy writing from dejected critics like me. Calling out tropes still isn’t the same as subverting them, folks, and there’s very little about Scream VI that rises above the boilerplate slasher fare that the original film so deftly undercut (no pun intended). In the end, though, it doesn’t matter that Scream VI has nothing coherent to say about the genre. Sticks in the mud like me will just have to accept that Scream (1996) celebrates the slasher as much as it deconstructs it, and that there’s far more money in the former than there is in the latter. So have your fun. I’ll be back in Woodsboro with the Fonz when you all get bored.

Scream VI is in theaters now.


  1. Great review Rob, I wholeheartedly agree. As much as I like Radio Silence's other efforts (Ready or Not especially) I simply cannot get into their Scream movies. The first 20 minutes of this movie is so fresh and exciting, it only makes the next 100 minutes that much more disappointing. Also (and I guess MINOR SPOILERS here), but it's probably the most telegraphed killer of the 6 so far, and that possibly spoiled my enjoyment. But when I watch the last 2 Screams, it feels more like a kid giving me a tour of his toy collection than watching a movie. The nadir of my movie-watching experience is probably when 2 characters take 90 whole seconds to confirm their horror movie bonafides to each other. Like, my god, this movie is already 2 hours, please spare us that.

  2. This franchise is becoming more and more like the Halloween franchise: the initial entry is a stone cold classic and the sequels are just shallow imitations.

    My biggest grip is that aside from the subway scene, which would have been great if it wasn’t spoiled in the trailers, the New York setting wasn’t really a factor. The Abe Snake bodega was a nice touch but it’s still just a convenience store. Couldn’t they have been trapped at the top of the Chrysler building or 30 Rock? Were they supposed to be at Central Park during the sting scene? The park would have been a great nighttime setting for a game of hide or get stabbed. And if they were really “requelling” Scream 2 then they should have had a Broadway set piece, maybe at some theater showing a comic send up of The Libation Bearers. But I guess a cop secretly owning a $10 million shuttered movie theater made more sense.

    But as much as I was disappointed in its faults I can’t deny that my 13 and 15 year old daughters loved it. They cowered in their seats and even cried when beloved characters were “killed.” I will be curious to see what their re-assessment of it will be in 10 yesrs.

  3. I thought it was fun at first, but ultimately the weakest of the franchise for being the most predictable and the least self-aware. Which really hurts, because I thought the previous one was smart where this one was dumb. I agree with Chris above me, the bodega scene was probably the highlight because I thought, oh crap, this can do the Jason Takes Manhattan thing where we actually get to see a slasher in public NYC, but then it does nothing with it again, really. And it was the first Scream film where I thought, "Oh please don't be this killer" and it was totally THAT killer for THAT reason. This series needs to be smarter because that's the whole promise. When Scream is playing by genre tropes it's almost like it doesn't understand what makes it special.

  4. I love the Ghostface character is a symbol of terror and mystery, as it conceals the identity of the killer beneath. This anonymity allows for unexpected twists and turns throughout the films, as multiple characters adopt the Scream ghostface costume, keeping audiences guessing about the true identity of the murderer.