Scream VI review: A dark, scary sequel
James R | On 13, May 2023
Director: Tyler Gillett, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin
Cast: Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Hayden Panettiere, Courteney Cox, Dermot Mulroney
“You know, you’re like the 10th guy to try this, right?” That’s the sound of Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) talking to Ghostface on the phone for the first time in Scream – and the very fact that it’s not happened before is a sign of how successful Scream VI is at giving the franchise a jolt of new energy.
2022’s Scream was a belated but welcome legacyquel (or requel) in the long-running horror series, ushering in a new generation of horror film fans – most notably, Sam (the brilliantly brooding Melissa Barrera), the daughter of Billy Loomis, and her sister, Tara (the scene-stealing Jenna Ortega). That connection to Screams past is part of that film’s strength, as it continues the franchise’s knack for exploring generational trauma, while still delivering self-aware humour and gruesome deaths. While that fifth outing was rooted in Woodsboro once again, Scream VI finds an unsettling edge by uprooting us and taking us to New York.
It’s only the third time the films have ventured outside Sidney Prescott’s small hometown, but the previous times have explicitly dragged us and her back to Woodsboro (including via a Hollywood set recreating Sidney’s home). Now, we’re dragged forwards into this new group’s tangle of grudges and family secrets – something that, six films in, becomes increasingly absurd in its soap operatic stylings, while still feeling entirely in keeping with the franchise’s knowing tradition.
Alongside Sam and Tara are their roommate, Quinn (Liana Liberato), Mindy’s brother, Chad (Mason Gooding), Chad’s roommate, Ethan (Jack Champion), and Mindy’s girlfriend, Anika (Devyn Kayoko). The self-branded “core four” – Sam, Tara, Chad and Mindy – not only understand the movie rules they must follow, but also the fact that they have to work out who to trust, which immediately sends tensions rippling through their bonds, and the cast are excellent at finding the balance between necessary distrust and essential loyalty, building them into an ensemble to match the first films’ central characters.
Of course, the ghosts of history are never far away, and writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick enjoy bringing back Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby – now an FBI agent – alongside Gale, with both getting a chance to sink their teeth into determined, resilient revenge arcs. Cox, in particular, provides an emotional anchor, but also smartly sets the tone for an investigative detective story, reinforced by Dermot Mulroney’s enjoyable turn as the gruff Detective Bailey, the protective father of Quinn.
The murder mystery vibe is deftly balanced with a relentless pace that keeps our characters on the run throughout the two-hour runtime. Ready or Not helmers Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett – fresh from upping the gore in the last Scream – take things still darker, capturing a sense of what it would be like for Ghostface to be running amok in the modern age, from online conspiracies and theories to the anonymous chill of a bustling city – a genuinely haunting opening that takes us behind the Ghostface mask is only topped by a nailbiting sequence involving a ladder and a terrifying set piece on a packed subway train. The ability to find fresh, new scares in old material leaves the franchise in better shape than ever, successfully looking forwards rather than backwards, in the same way its characters have learnt to. Roll on Scream VII.