Every “Scream” movie begins with the phone call-with-the-killer sequence, which serves as the film’s appetiser and, as any character in a “Scream” movie will tell you, sets the tone for the entire picture. That ritual scene in “Scream VI” begins at the bar of a hip restaurant in downtown Manhattan.
Professor of movie studies (Samara Weaving), who is blonde and British, is seated at the bar. She explains that she’s teaching a course in horror flicks over the phone to her Tinder date, who can’t seem to find the restaurant (which, the way she describes it, is no stab in the dark of plausibility).
In order to help him identify the location, her obnoxious dork date is able to persuade her out onto the street, and by the time she enters a dark alley, we already know what’s going to happen. His tone drops to a recognisable mocking AM-radio DJ growl.
But in this instance, the murderer is quickly identified as…a college dude. When he gets back to his flat, the real killer is on the phone with the victim from the horror film.
This intricate double sequence does a good job of laying the groundwork for “Scream VI,” the first installment in the series to take place in a city like New York City, with its creepier-than-usual implications (that guy discusses how he savoured executing a copycat murder).
The “core four,” who have nicknamed themselves “the Core Four,” are all back from “Scream,” the “requel” from last year: Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), who triumphantly concluded that film by killing the movie’s interpretation of Ghostface;
Sam’s half-sister Tara (Jenna Ortega), who is enrolled at Blackmore College in New York (a made-up institution that feels like NYU), and whom Sam hovers around like an overprotective parent; and Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and her attractive brother Chad, who are Tara’s fellow (Mason Gooding).
Together with the screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, the directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are also back.
With the help of a new audience-driven corporate cynicism about what movies can and will do for an encore, Mindy the brilliant horror superfan explains the rules for how a “Scream” movie works once more.
As soon as Ghostface begins his rampage, Mindy rightly observes that the situation the protagonists are now in isn’t just a sequel but a franchise, and she sets forth the expectations it implies. That implies that the new film needs to be bigger and more extravagant.
That it needs to defy expectations and take a new turn. And that the characters from the past are wholly disposable. “Scream VI” pretty well follows those rules.
Here are a few guidelines I have about the current state of the “Scream” franchise, though.
Rule #1: The characters’ schlock-culture experts’ take on the horror genre and the meta-playfulness around it have devolved into mere window dressing.
Rule #2: Compared to, example, the “Halloween” movies, where the same bad drone constantly wears the mask, this series has actually aged more suspensefully because we don’t know who the murderer is.
Rule #3: As a result, the survival of the “Scream” series depends on whether the film in question truly succeeds as a thriller, even though it still keeps just the right amount of the spirit of postmodern snark.
While movie drags on for far too long, “Scream VI” is nonetheless a decent thriller. It’s a smart in all the right ways violent homicidal shell game that’s staged and shot more powerfully than the previous movie, keen to capitalise on its more expansive but enclosed cosmopolitan location.
The “Scream” movies of the 1990s, with their self-reflexive slasher-on-rewind style, expressed a real love of movies. In “Scream VI,” when one of Ghostface’s victims says, “We have to finish the movie,” Ghostface responds, “Who gives a fuck about movies,” and then stabs him.
While “Scream VI” keeps the audience’s attention, it also makes changes to a genre that is no longer relevant. This time, the Ghostface mask is a touch ratty and worn, similar to an old leather couch, which is appropriate for the 27-year-old serial, which has featured nine distinct Ghostface Killers.
Ghostface’s behaviour in “Scream VI” is anything but submissive. The cashier carries a shotgun, but that isn’t enough to stop him as he charges Sam and Tara in the middle of a scene.
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And the movie completely unseals the disguise when, early on, Ghostface breaks into an apartment containing almost all of the important characters, leading viewers to believe that it can’t be any of them.
The erotically boisterous Quinn (Liana Liberato), whose father (Dermot Mulroney) is the police officer on the case, is also given a valid reason why she can’t be one of the roommates.
So, who is left? Ethan (Jack Champion), the nerdy virgin who stammers. too simple.
Melissa Barrera has the passion and acting prowess to portray Sam as a woman who is so obsessed with catching the murderer that she becomes…possessed. Sam first appeared as the protagonist of “Scream,” but since since, a conspiracy theory on the internet has implied that she was the murderer.
She believes—or at least her therapist (Henry Czerny) believes—that “Maybe I am a killer” because she killed Ghostface with a vengeance comparable to his.
Sam has a lot on her mind right now, including that and defending Tara. The movie “Scream VI” will do better at the box office thanks to Jenna Ortega’s newfound fame as the title character of “Wednesday,” and she gives Tara a noticeable surly spunk.
Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby Reed has returned (from “Scream 4”!) as an FBI agent, but her best scene is trading horror-movie appraisals with Mindy. Courteney Cox ensures that Gale Weathers’ reappearance feels like more than a token legacy gesture.
The “Scream” series, in its first two volumes (until it stagnated artistically in “Scream III”), was always the slasher series that was too self-conscious to be just a slasher series. The slasher series we have now is just self-aware enough to not be a boring rehash.
Perhaps because this is actually part two of the requel, it doesn’t overstay its welcome (though it could easily have been just 100 minutes long). A fantastic scene takes place on a metro car filled with costumed freaks on Halloween night.
And there are other scenes that take place in a kind of underground shrine that the murderer built within an abandoned movie theatre and displayed all the crucial evidence from every case. It’s a wry allusion to the reality that the series could potentially end up being a sort of “Scream” museum.
Yet if they keep coming up with creative ways to make the cynical decay that typically brings down horror series become the same thing that makes “Scream” scream, this team of filmmakers could just be astute enough to avoid that.