Film Review: Scream VI is the finest and freshest the series has felt since the original

Given how meta and self-referential the Scream series has become, there’s something kind of brilliant in the familiar Ghostface vocal (again brought to sadistic life by Roger L. Jackson) exclaiming “Who gives a fuck about movies?” as he slices down on his latest victim prior to the Scream VI title card.  The answer, it would seem, is Radio Silence – aka filmmaking duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett – who very much express their love of not only the Scream films, but cinema itself throughout the following 123 minutes of brutal carnage.

With an abandoned, rundown theatre serving as both a major plot-point within Scream VI and the setting for the inevitable bloody showdown (and I do mean bloody!), it’s difficult to not look at such a metaphor as the very death of cinema itself – something that has been threatened predominantly over these last few years, where the streaming platform was initially deemed something of a saviour before the in-home ease became its biggest competition.

Now, Betinelli-Olpin, Gillett, and screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick aren’t going to stab you in the face too hard with such a commentary.  They’ll save the stabbings for Ghostface and the commentary for his/her/their glorious reveal, and before we get to such a sight, they reel us in with another subverted variation on the opening kill scene that’s become a staple in the series ever since Drew Barrymore unknowingly answered the phone call that gutted her (and her oft-forgotten boyfriend) in the 1996 original; for the 2022 “requel” (Scream) they let seeming victim Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega, returning with all the likeable spunk that made her an instant favourite) survive her multiple injuries to graduate to final girl status alongside big sister Sam (Melissa Barrera, more than coming into her own as the morally-questionable contrast of original heroine Sidney Prescott).

On the mention of Sidney Prescott, Neve Campbell hasn’t returned to the violent fray this time around.  And though the behind-the-scenes reasoning was unfortunate – it came down to pay disputes between herself and Paramount – it must be said that Vanderbilt and Busick’s script never feels at a loss having her be void of the action.  This feels very much like Sam and Tara’s story, and it’s their survival from the last film that pushes the narrative forward, with the repercussions of what Sam inflicted on the masterminds of the previous film following her to New York, where she hovers over Tara like a helicopter mother.

That seems to be for good reason though, as when we meet Tara here she’s enjoying the college lifestyle of incessant drinking and questionable hook-ups.  Sam isn’t above crashing a college party and tasering any date-rapists in the genitals, but with the returning Meeks-Martin twins – Jasmin Savoy Brown‘s film-enthused Mindy and Mason Gooding‘s sensitive himbo Chad – as her protectors (Chad more so, because the injection of a little romance allows Scream VI to momentarily breathe), as well as the archetypal collection of the new friend group on hand, Tara assures big sis that she’s fine without her; said new friend collective consisting of Mindy’s new girlfriend, Annika (Devyn Nekoda), Letterboxd-logging virgin Ethan (Jack Champion), and sex-positive roomie Quinn (Liana Liberato), all of whom flit between potential victim and suspect as the film lures forward.

Like the five films that came before it, Scream VI is still a mystery whodunnit at its core, and the reasoning behind Sam’s targeting is a narrative additive that’s best left discovered for invested audiences; or, more correctly, fans, because there’s literally no reason to see this fifth sequel if you haven’t partaken in any of the originals.  It’s why the motives of each killer that came before are utilised here; it’s why there’s an excitement in seeing the return of Scream 4‘s Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere, effortlessly stepping back into the shoes of one of the series’ most beloved characters), now an FBI agent investigating Ghostface attacks specifically; and it’s why we hold such emotional outlay in an extended set-piece involving Courteney Cox‘s Gale Weathers and her one-on-one phone call-cum-stalk sequence with a far-more relentless Ghostface killer.

If last year’s Scream was a greatest hits of all that came before under the loving eye of Wes Craven (may he rest in peace), Scream VI is the B-Side and remix compilation.  As Mindy stresses that these characters are no longer just existing within the realms of a requel sequel, but a full blown franchise – this monologue serving as a beautiful, humorous counterpart to her Scream rules piece – where proceedings have to be showier, expectations should be subverted, and any cast member is expendable, the film very much knows how to toy with our emotions and layer a sense of tense unpredictability across each frame.  Whilst Ghostface is still knife-happy throughout, this particular embodiment isn’t afraid to improvise where necessary, so a sequence involving Sam and Tara seeking hopeful shelter in a nearby bodega or an extended episode in the girls’ apartment that involves using an unstable ladder to cross from their floor to the neighbour’s (Josh Segarra bringing moody sex appeal and suspicion as Sam’s beau, Danny) when Ghostface attacks are heightened by the notion that if a knife won’t cut it (metaphorically and literally), then available shotguns and said unstable ladder will come in mighty handy; these two moments serving as particular highlights throughout.

Whilst I am personally a severe fan of the Scream franchise, I am not blind to their flaws overall.  That being said, as much as a Campbell return would’ve delighted proceedings, the story crafted here has no organic purpose for her.  Whilst this story’s shrine narrative additive alludes to her Sidney being a necessary presence for such a franchise-encompassing moment, Radio Silence have wholly pivoted the story around Sam and her murderous bloodline.  It never feels like this has been done because Campbell wasn’t secured.  Sam’s ties to the man that spilled Sidney’s mother’s blood, and this film’s intimate tie-in to her actions of its predecessor, allow Scream VI to exist in a natural manner and a worthy companion to all that has come before.

Utilising the potential of its New York setting to the best of its ability, injecting serious emotion amongst the brutality (say it with me now, “core four!” – this’ll soon make sense), and delighting in the twisted mentality of sweeping the rug out from under us so it can stab us repeatedly, Scream VI is the finest and freshest the franchise has felt since its original 1-2 punch of the 1996 original and its 1997 sequel.  Where some sequels jump the shark or overstay their welcome, Scream VI drinks off its fresh blood and presents itself as if it’s just getting started, and I, for one, can’t be thankful enough.


Scream VI is now screening in Australian theatres.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.