Ghostface takes Manhattan in SCREAM VI

The slasher franchise gets bloodier, and more brutal, as is moves beyond Woodsboro

The formula of a franchise is very important. Elements need to be preserved to meet expectations and yet, enough changes but be worked in to keep things fresh. Scream VI builds on its “requel” predecessor to deliver exactly what you’d hope for from the series along with a few fresh twists and a starkly brutal edge that remind you there’s

Six months after the latest spate of killings in Woodboro, survivors Sam (Melissa Barrera), Tara (Jenna Ortega), Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), and Chad (Mason Gooding) have relocated to New York city in an attempt to start a fresh chapter of their lives. New jobs, new loves, and college life give a semblance of normal life, but trauma lingers. Problems exacerbated by conspiracy theories that Sam was the real person responsible for the murders, rather than the hero. Public backlash and enduring PTSD put the “Core Four” on edge, but their caution is warranted as a new series of killings begin, marking the return of Ghostface. This time, murder scenes are marked by a tribute to those killers that donned the mask before, indicating a countdown for a plan to mete out a warped idea of bloody justice.

The cold open that fits the mold you’d expect. A famous face, an unsettling phone call, a knife… But then a change of tack that subverts some expectations. Enough to provide not only a hook to draw you into the film, but also put an slight imprint of unpredictability on the rest of the film, and when it comes to a mystery slasher, that’s a very good thing indeed. The script from James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick sees no drastic overhaul to the formula, despite the recurring boasts of there being “no rules for a sequel to a requel”, and how even legacy characters aren’t safe in a long standing franchise. In the past, the films have ribbed sequels, trilogies, remakes, and even ‘elevated horror’ as the series progressed. Here we get similar cinematic pot-shots (watch out Argento fans), and commentary on current day, touching on fake news, distortion of the truth, weaponization of social media, and villainization of public figures. Where Scream VI really sets itself apart from it’s predecessors comes down to scale and tone.

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, returning from Scream V, make great use of NYC as a bigger playground for these characters. Taking in parks, apartment buildings, shady back alleys, iconic subways, and even dropping a a battle in a bodega. Its expansive but claustrophobic too, with events marking nowhere in NYC as safe. This Ghostface is a relentless force, with a mean streak and ability to put a brutal stamp on proceedings. Nasty, bone-crunching deaths that cause a shudder, along with genuine palpable tension. A set-piece in an apartment that may go down as perhaps the most intense sequence in the history of the franchise. The pair clearly have a firmer grasp of things and even restore some of the wit and visual flair that while lacking in V, is synonymous with the series. Dialing back some of the meta-commentary allows them to have a bit more fun and lean into building a solid, intense, slasher.

Another strength is the greater focus on sisters Sam and Tara. Scream V had the burden of retooling the franchise around a new generation of stars. With that work done, the only real baggage comes in terms of the trauma these survivors have. Contrasting approaches as Sam has gone into heightened survivalist mode, while Tara is in some form of denial, keen to move on with her life while trying to break free of her overprotective sister. The film goes a good job of cementing their bond by affirming that the real answer to their survival might be somewhere in between, and come down to working together.

Jenna Ortega continues to demonstrate the chops that mark her as a star rising, while Barrera is not only given better material this time round, but has a much firmer grasp of it too. Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding are affable supports, while the newcomers all get their little moments to humanize themselves or add suspicions to feed the guessing game of who is the murder. Scream VI also brings back franchise icons Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) and Gale (Courteney Cox, deftly pivoting from ally to journalistic vulture and back again), further feeding into continuity and that sense of nostalgia. Something also served by the main plot which smartly celebrates the mythology of Ghostface. A look into the past that collides with this this new infusion of blood, which has undeniably rejuvenated the franchise for another generation.

Scream VI hits theaters on March 10th

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