When does ingeniously postmodern start to feel old hat? Maybe when it’s 2023 and a movie’s premise still depends on people diligently answering their cell phones when they ring, rather than merely chucking them over the nearest wall in horror.
For a franchise that’s had so much fun subverting the little details, you’d expect a Scream movie to do a bit more with that cultural shift. More fatally, Scream VI continues its stock-in-trade of deconstructing genre conventions that, in the era of smart, savvy horrors like M3GAN, Nope, Midsommar and Barbarian, are vanishingly rare. Because unless the rebooted Scream franchise exists solely to subvert the rebooted Halloween franchise, no one is out there setting shadowy monsters on terrified final girls any more.
This time, the survivors of 2022’s confusingly-named Scream, including Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), her half-sister Tara (Wednesday’s Jenna Ortega) and twins Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding), have decamped from small-town Woodsboro to the big city to attend Manhattan’s Blakemore University. A satisfyingly nasty opening ends with the college requiring a new film studies professor. ‘She gave me a C- on my giallo paper,’ stews the perpetrator.
As fun as it would be to have a bunch of up-themselves film bros viscerally recreating Dario Argento movies for the likes, that’s not where Scream VI is heading. Instead, it’s the same characters trying to elude another new Ghostface who is haunting the city. Courtney Cox’s spiky journo Gale Weathers is back too, along with Hayden Panettiere’s Scream 4 survivor Kirby Reed, now an FBI agent on a mission. (Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott is MIA here.)
They’re all expendable, because as someone notes on-screen: ‘Legacy characters are canon fodder at this point’. But for all those heightened stakes and the frequent, lurid splashes of violence, it’s not scary. One ponderous subway sequence raises the blood pressure more as a recreation of an interminable commuter journey than a slowburn build-up to more stabby mayhem.
For all the lurid splashes of violence, it’s not scary
And Scream VI does disappointingly little with the bustling, metropolitan setting as a playground for murder. Every time there’s a killing the city becomes oddly deserted.
With the co-directors of the last movie, Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, back behind the camera, there’s some hammy fun to be had in the knowingly meta patter, while long-time fans will find the trove of Easter eggs and callbacks extends to an entire Ghostface museum.
But even in those well-executed gnarlier moments and winky character beats, Scream VI feels a lot more dated than the genre it’s deconstructing. I’d give it a C-.