Scream VI

At this point, the Scream franchise has to twist itself into knots trying to explain why someone new picks up the Ghostface baton and starts killing people. With Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kreuger, there was almost a supernatural element. They were so evil that they couldn’t die. Ghostface always has a real person underneath the mask, necessitating an explanation for each subsequent chapter. You’d think maybe these people would realize that every culprit ends up being defeated. But no, another psycho is always right there ready to take over. Scream VI is no different. The continually evolving justification is part of the fun by now, and this chapter certainly has a doozy of a reveal.

Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) left Woodsboro and is in college in New York with friends Chad (Mason Gooding) and Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown). Older sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) has followed her in an effort to be protective. Tara doesn’t want that protection, she wants to have her freedom. Sam has become the subject of rumors anyway, with people online claiming she was the mastermind behind the Ghostface murders from a year prior. Then another Ghostface murder takes place, making it appear the cycle is starting up again. Sam attempts to take Tara and leave, but a city detective, Bailey (Dermot Mulroney), advises them that they need to stay, since Sam has all that suspicion attached to her.

As anticipated, everyone around the sisters becomes either a suspect or a victim. That includes Tara’s sex-positive roommate Quinn (Liana Liberato) and reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). Meanwhile, FBI agent Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) arrives to help Bailey investigate. Fans will doubtlessly recall that she was left for dead by Ghostface in Scream 4. Is it a stretch that she’s now a fed who specializes in Ghostface murders? Sure, although it’s an entertaining stretch. Panettiere totally understands the material, giving a performance filled with sly humor. She walks off with the movie.

The story is what it is. Cinema-obsessed Mindy unleashes a monologue about the “rules” of franchises, which Scream VI goes on to follow. There’s also a long scene at the end where the unmasked killer or killers (I won’t spoil it by specifying how many) explain their motivation at length while the Carpenter women stand there and listen. You know the drill by now. We’ve seen it five previous times. Plotwise, nothing particularly new is in here. The series’ formula is followed to the letter. I guess that’s not really a criticism so much as a pointing-out that you get precisely what you expect.

That familiar template continues to work because the scenes of terror deliver serious suspense. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett stage the Ghostface attacks with immense skill. At one point, characters have to cross apartment buildings via a ladder stretched between windows, while the masked killer shakes that ladder from one side. An ambush inside a bodega is equally tense, as is a slow-burn subway scene where Tara and Sam are inside the train with multiple Halloweeners wearing Ghostface masks. Neither they, nor we, know who the real one is, if he’s in there at all. The filmmakers stage these sequences with ingenuity, keeping you nice and tense.

Scream VI is a little nastier than some of its predecessors. Blood and gore are shown in more graphic detail, especially during the finale. The choice to do that is sensible, as an underlying idea in the story is that Sam may have inherited a killer instinct from her father, original Ghostface Billy Loomis. You need an extra shot of brutality to have that arc pay off as cleverly as it does.

Series star Neve Campbell is absent this time. No insult intended, but the film doesn’t need her. Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega have the charisma and appeal to fill her shoes. We care about their characters, just as we cared about Sidney Prescott. With them front and center, Scream VI’s signature kill scenes carry the necessary weight. Heroines you can root for, a villain you want to see vanquished, gruesome murders, a handful of good jokes pertaining to horror cliches – yep, this is a Scream picture, alright. It’s a scary, satisfying one, too.

out of four

Scream VI is rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, and brief drug use. The running time is 2 hours and 3 minutes.