“You’re not Woodsboro,” someone says to an outsider in Scream VI at a pivotal moment. Which, of course, would mean something had not only half of the six Scream films taken place in the fictional town of Woodsboro, where all the mayhem started twenty-seven years ago. Especially since one of the main characters in all six isn’t from Woodsboro herself.
This quickly-delivered line and all it implies – from a killer supposedly targeting only Woodsboro folks to the absolute absurdity of the line itself and how much it doesn’t make sense – sum Scream VI up in a nutshell. It’s a movie that earns its marks by using returning fans’ reliance on canon knowledge to take off at 100 miles an hour and sustain its relentless pressure until we’re begging for it to stop. However, it loses steam because the movie plays out exactly as Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown) lays out in a scene reminiscent of her uncle Randy’s (Jamie Kennedy, not appearing in this film) “There are certain rules one must abide by…” rants in the first three films.
And by that, we’re talking about the bit of her monologue in which she details how franchises only exist to make things bigger and bloodier by upping the amount of characters used to pad the film’s victims or potential suspects. To date, this installment has the highest body count – and the most gore – of any of its predecessors. Forget the 1996 film’s director’s cut (if you were lucky to have seen it on VHS or laserdisc, bought the German DVD, or taped it off of pay-per-view) and its cut-for-the-MPA rolling innards. This film features unbelievable levels of carnage that push Scream VI past being a film focused on its characters and into the realm of “how much more squick can we get?”
The setup’s the same as it always has been: A voice on the phone (Roger L. Jackson, one of the only two actors in this film who’ve been in all six Screams) heralds the imminent arrival of the Ghostface Killer, a deranged lunatic with ties to the film’s main characters. Taking over the reins from an absent Neve Campbell is Melissa Barrera as Sam Carpenter, whose hidden past came to light in the 2022 “requel.” Along with sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) and Meeks-Martin twins Mindy and Chad (Mason Gooding), Sam’s relocated to
Montreal New York City to avoid anything having to do with Woodsboro and the killers that seem to pop up every so often. Yet… here we are, in the Big Apple, and Ghostface is having a ball tracking them down and making them squirm.
Returning writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick kick their honest respect for the Wes Craven ’96-’11 pentalogy up a level by making the most out of their placement of red herrings throughout. For a franchise known most for its terrifying opening sequences, Vanderbilt and Busick serve up an absolutely bedeviling entr’acte by throwing everything we expect out the window. Radio Silence collective Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett use their direction to push us out of our “we’ve seen this before” comfort zones with a good balance of intrigue, frights, and gore… but at the expense of having a supposedly savvy person do the dumbest thing possible.
It’s a scene so uncharacteristically camp, we’re practically shouting “GET OUT OF THERE, YOU IDIOT!” at the person whose violent death soon presents itself in detestable fashion. With as much as this franchise has built itself on horror movie smarts, you’d think that the victim had enough of them to know not to put themselves in any situation even remotely resembling this one (especially considering the character-developing dialogue minutes before). But no – it’s just a means to kick off the bloodshed, which Radio Silence gives us by the barrelful, and it’s a leitmotif for everything that follows.
Scream VI is a very thinly-veiled remake of 1997’s Scream 2, and it doesn’t make any attempt to hide it, even going so far as to reference this similarity in one scene. Plot, story, locations, and motivations are repurposed for this outing, and it’s almost uncomfortable to know that no real new ground is being broken. Instead, the film devolves into scares of convenience instead of well-laid terror, which goes against everything the Scream films stood for. The themes about Sam and Tara’s collective mental health (and how it affects their relationship) and how social media has given rise to unchecked conspiracy theories ply the film with surface-level social commentary rather than the undercurrent of foundational commentary running like motor oil through the other films’ engines.
While the meta always becomes real in the Scream series, it usually does so in a sly, playful way; here, Scream VI mocks the construct instead of involving the construct, taking it apart, and then putting it back together. It’s usually done in kintsugi fashion, with the cracks and seams alternately offered up as new takes on slasher film comedy or horror. However, Radio Silence seem to be intent on going for broke by stepping on every established rule in the series; some rule-breaking yields good results, some not. The elevated body count is one such metric, especially in the methods which the killer uses to dispatch anyone within reach. For the first time ever, bystanders are fair game, leading to the early use of firearms (something only trotted out in the other film’s third acts) and other devices of convenience that seem haphazard and, as someone put it in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, “look suspiciously like luck.”
“Convenience.” It’s a word used in this review twice, and it’s a bit concerning. Why? Because Scream films were never about convenience; they were about well-plotted schemes to agonizingly torture and exact some kind of revenge on Sidney Prescott and, now, Sam Carpenter. Scream VI shows some method behind the madness, but doesn’t play by its own rules; instead, it takes shortcuts and leans hard into caricature, making everyone and everything larger than life without laying the basic groundwork beyond having to care simply because the returning characters survived. As mentioned before, this movie takes off at 100 miles an hour and doesn’t stop, which makes Scream VI a fun and entertaining time, but once the post-credits tag plays and the lights go up, the problems begin to present themselves. And they likewise don’t stop.