"Who gives a fuck about movies?"
There is a lot to unravel with Scream VI, the latest installment in the hugely successful horror franchise that introduced us to the town of Woodsboro, California. For the first time, the story migrates away from the west coast to New York City, embracing the dark alleyways and crowded subway cars where anything can happen to anyone. It is also the first outing sans Neve Campbell's Sidney Prescott, the titular player in the web of lies, deceit, and horror film fandom.
But rest assured, despite all the changes, one thing remains consistent: Ghostface is hellbent on spilling serious blood.
The film, set a year after 2022's Scream, is undeniably brutal as Ghostface runs rampant amongst the streets of Manhattan, mercilessly stalking his prey as he brings terror to a city that has seen everything. And like prior films in the series, Scream VI utilizes a heavy dose of social commentary, merging the current culture of internet obsessions and conspiracy theorists with the undeniable sense that this one feels personal.
Though Campbell took a break from her role, citing a pay discrepancy, Courteney Cox returns as Gale Weathers. Her involvement makes her the only cast member to appear in all six installments. Though her screen time is limited, her inclusion will appease the original's fans, many of whom grew frustrated with Campbell's departure, even if that move became temporarily overshadowed, thanks to the unexpected return of Hayden Panettiere's Kirby Reed. Reed, a fan favorite, was presumed dead at the conclusion of Scream 4 but confirmed alive by a youtube clip seen onscreen during last year's reboot.
Combine that with a slew of flawlessly integrated subtle callbacks to past films, and nostalgia rings true for many. That said, it's hard not to recognize that this time around, things feel a bit different. Removing the backdrop of Woodsboro, writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick can unleash a ruthless, barbaric tone that lifts the overall narrative out of the camp arena and into something more authentic. And while it's easy to hide amid the shadows of the largest city in the country, Scream VI retains its community feel, never allowing the film or its characters to get too substantial.
When Sam (Melissa Barrera) and sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) are attacked outside their innercity apartment, they escape into a nearby convenience store where their predator quickly eliminates the unaware bystanders, paving the way for the long-awaited return of Scream's most iconic element: the chase sequence.
Not since Gale navigated her way through a college sound mixing studio in 1997's Scream 2 has the series given us so much adrenaline and tension. And that is, in large part, what makes Scream VI work so well. Unlike recent films, where Ghostface's attacks are quick and unchallenged (i.e., Sheriff Judy Hicks), directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett take their time here. As a result, the pursuits are longer; the tensions more developed. Although the scene's glory is always the kill, the series has learned from its past mistakes, now understanding that the prize of the encounter is often the journey, not the destination.
That said, the film leans heavily on its wit and humor. Jasmin Savoy Brown's Mindy Meeks-Martin is the driving force behind the tonal shift, her obsession with horror films a constant reference point for the meta-style storytelling that has always worked well for the series. She, positioned in front of a group of friends, solidifies the series as a franchise, revealing a set of rules and stakes for the newly minted designation. Her involvement is imperative for the film's overall success as she keeps things in check, always fascinated with the cinematic quality of the situation, her survival a distant second (and occasionally third) thought.
The unique blend of horror and wit gives the franchise its edge, and Scream VI proves no different. Unquestionably relevant, the film has its pulse on pop culture, leaning into the tropes, offering just enough nostalgia (Omega Beta Zeta, anyone?) and scares to make a film that is equally smart, brutal, and campy. Admittedly, it isn't perfect. But damn, Wes Craven would be proud.