Are there really people who vividly remember the events of “Scream 4?” Can anyone actually recall which characters Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Mariska Hargitay, and Allison Brie played in that movie? Here’s a test: Did you know that Mariska Hargitay wasn’t in “Scream 4?” When you read her name, you weren’t sure if she was in it or not, weren’t you?
The resurrected franchise’s writers, James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, expect a quasi-Tolkien slavish devotion to lore and legend…about a series of clumsily meta movies that once starred Skeet Ulrich and now star the CGI de-aged reanimated corpse of Skeet Ulrich. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who go by the collective name “Radio Silence” either because they lost a bet or want to find the limits of White privilege, also returned for “Scream VI.” Once again, all involved somehow produce something greater than the sum of the severed body parts.
The plot genuinely feels like what you’d get from ChatGPT if it was fed previous “Scream” movies. Sam (Melissa Barrera), daughter of an OG Ghostface, and her sister, Tara (Jenna Ortega), have fled the small town of Woodsboro, murder capital of the universe, for New York City. They’re joined by the other survivors of the previous slasher chapter, Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding). Mindy is the one that provides pop culture observations and “horror movie and franchise rules,” because her dead uncle did that in the original series. That is how this rebootquel works: Everybody only does things because they have previously done those same things or were related to someone who did.
Tara is fantastic. Not only because Ortega is a great actress but because she channels the audience’s frustration, constantly yelling some version of “Can we not talk about all the other movies for five minutes?!” Sadly, no one listens to her. The dialogue in the film consists entirely of people recapping previous events in an effort to determine just who is wearing the iconic mask and putting knives all the way into people this time.
“Scream VI” is at absolute war with itself. It wants to be funnier than it is, at least according to Dermot Mulroney’s performance. It wants to venture into genuinely interesting plot territory, at least judging by Sam’s ongoing temptation to “give into the dark side” like her stabby pappy. It wants to say something culturally salient, at least in the spots where it ponders the genuinely dangerous nature of modern conspiracism. It surrenders to none of those urges, leaving a chalk corpse outline of what could have been.
Where (sigh) Radio Silence is permitted to play, it pops. The bodega and subway sequences are top-notch. Not just because they are unlike anything the decades-old franchise has done before but not not because of that fact. Ortega is sensationally well suited for the genre, able to walk the bowie knife’s edge of goofy cliché and sincere terror. Perhaps most stunningly, if they go where they seem to be alluding for “Scream VII,” it could be legitimately new ground for a horror series. Inverting concepts of “good and bad” as a byproduct of violent trauma is as potentially compelling as the option to mayhaps pit two Ghostfaces against one another.
To be clear, none of that happens here. “Scream VI” is entirely by-the-book, redundant events freshened up by throwing the action over to Gotham. Its obsession with the past is a burdensome chore, but the cheeky silliness it adopts when forced to conclude there makes it forgivably disappointing. Will anyone remember if Mariska Hargitay was in this in a few years? No. Let’s just hope “Scream XIV” doesn’t quiz anyone on those details when it gets here.
Grade = B+
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Monica Castillo at RogerEbert.com says “As far as sequels go, ‘Scream VI’ is a strange, self-referential beast, a snake eating its own tail with nothing left. What will it take to give it fresh blood and move forward?”
DarkSkyLady at Wealth of Geeks says “The kills are spectacular, the cast sharp, and the tension dense, as this Ghostface is far more brutal than previous ones. While you may not jump at every scene, there will be plenty of jaw-dropping deaths and ear-to-ear grins.”
Lupe R Haas at Cine Movie says “This latest entry subverts the franchise’s rules and cranks the horror way up to deliver the best ‘Scream’ movie since the original.”