Review: 'Scream VI' proves that this slasher franchise is losing its sharp edge
Here's what I liked about the new "Scream VI" movie: There were some very cool kills, some great set-pieces (the opening sequence, a scene set in a mini-mart and a scene spanning across two high-rise apartment windows were super-cool). I really like the main cast - the "Core Four" as they're referred to - of Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown. And there was something that felt "freeing" with this franchise deciding to head out of the confines of Woodsboro, California for the dark, murky, dangerous streets of New York City.
But the "Scream" films have always felt "risen above" the rest of the horror genre...mainly by how it mixes in sharp satire of the horror genre itself. The characters in these films have watched all the horror movies. They know all of the tropes of the genre. Like the savvy viewers sitting in the theater, these people are not going to fall for the usual tricks. This has always made "Scream" feel smart. They have acted as an ongoing subversion of the genre.
As a massive fan of the first four "Scream" chapters, I was not at all a fan of the last chapter, essentially called "Scream 5" (in fact, it was simply called "Scream" as it tried to relaunch itself as a franchise, but that's besides the point). "Scream VI" is a giant improvement over the previous installment, and for its first two-thirds, it felt like an inspired chapter in the ongoing "Scream" saga. But the last half-hour made it IMPOSSIBLE to be on board with, succumbing not only to the terrible tropes that the series often makes fun of, but leaning into them unknowingly.
"Scream VI" sees the sister characters from the last film, Sam (Barrera) and her younger sister Tara (Ortega), now off to college in New York City. They're their along with their best friends, brother Chad (Gooding) and his sister Mindy (Savoy Brown). Even though they are no longer in Woodsboro, they just can't escape mindless killers wanting revenge for something they've done in the past. A new Ghostface (or Ghostfaces) begin tormenting them and their friends, and they're forced to go on the offensive to hopefully end this madness once and for all.
Franchise staple Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) is back, but she's not the only one...Kirby (Hayden Panettiere), last seen in "Scream 4," is also back as an FBI agent with a personal grudge. Quinn (Liana Liberato) and her Detective father (Dermot Mulroney), as well as a new love interest for Sam, Danny (Josh Segarra) - among a few others - are the new players, and per usual, we are just made to view the entirety of the cast as either dispensable victims, or possible suspects.
The best shift of all is that the film does try to get back to its "meta" roots...there is a lot of analytical discussion about how franchises like this go, who is in danger, and who shouldn't be trusted. There are some great, bloody kills and some legitimately cool sequences of horror...nearly enough to forgive the shortcomings of where the film finally takes us.
Nearly. That last half-hour is just maddeningly awful. Performances go from good to bad, from passable to laughable. The dialogue worsens. The writers - in an effort to out "Scream" themselves - turn out one of the worst final acts in recent memory, horror or otherwise. Things become so ridiculous that it's hard to leave the theater thinking that this could have possibly been a "good" movie.
Of course, I can't spoil anything that I'm specifically talking about...so I won't.
Worse, while some of the kills are quite creative, "Scream" has suddenly created a world where getting stabbed is like getting a tummy-ache. People get stabbed - and I mean STABBED, like deep and hard and with a big knife, sometimes over and over again - and then are still able to talk, sometimes laugh, and run all over the place. Scenes occur after loved ones just brutally were murdered, and the characters don't seem to remember what just happened. There was a weird late-season "The Walking Dead" vibe, where no matter what happens or what the circumstances are, we know that the main characters are untouchable. "Scream VI" puts everyone through the ringer, but mostly there was nothing lost, nearly nothing sacrificed.
Oh, and at one point, the villain - holding a gun - decides to run towards the hero and tackle each other instead of, you know, pulling the trigger.
And "Scream VI" isn't sharp not just in regards to its wittiness, but its execution. In one scene, a phone call would have saved a life, and later in that same scene, a paramedics crew seems to be hanging out right outside the doorway, able to rush in right when the scene required.
These are not quibbles. Little makes sense, as the movie tries to hide behind the love and trust it has generated with its fans. But worst of all, there are no stakes in "Scream VI," and if anything, a slasher movie needs to have stakes. It seems that in attempting to subvert our expectations of the genre, they forgot to actually add the ingredients of the genre to start with.
"Scream VI" no longer feels smart...a copycat much like the Ghostface killers themselves, dressed up appropriately enough but with nothing incredibly interesting to say. "Scream" movies used to be different...they're now cleverly package horror films that are becoming just as generic as the films they used to so cleverly butcher (pun intended).
This one is a good time until it's not...a killer blow to a franchise desperately in need of more life.
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller.
Run Time: 2 hours and 3 minutes.
Starring: Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Courteney Cox, Mason Gooding, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Dermot Mulroney, Jack Champion, Josh Segarra, Devyn Nekoda, Hayden Panettiere, Liana Liberato, Samara Weaving.
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett ("Scream" (2022), "Ready or Not").
"Scream VI" is in theaters on Friday, March 10th, 2023.
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