The Pitch: It’s been a minute since Ghostface reared his spooky head around Woodsboro for the millionth time, and the new generation of survivors is doing their best to move on. In fact, the self-appointed “Core Four” — Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), sister Tara (Jenna Ortega), and Meeks twins Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding) — have moved on up to New York City, home of folded pizzas and jarred picante sauce, to go to college and otherwise live their lives.
It’s not easy, of course, especially for Sam, who wrestles with her father’s nascent killer instinct and her overprotectiveness around Tara, who’s desperate not to let the events of the last killing spree define her life.
But it turns out Ghostface isn’t done with them, even in the Big Apple, as ol’ Ghosty starts his work back up in their vicinity, all with a previous killer’s mask left behind as a calling card. The rules, argues Mindy, are different this time: They’re not in the requel anymore, but a franchise — the property matters more than the characters.
This means everyone, whether it’s legacy characters (Courteney Cox’s Gale Weathers, Hayden Panetierre’s returning Scream 4 victim Kirby) or the new leads or anyone else standing in the way, is on the chopping block. (Nevermind that these are the rules earmarked for just about every Scream sequel since the first, but you know.) So, as the bodies pile up in subway cars and bodegas, Sam and co. start to realize that moving away from Woodsboro won’t keep them safe.
Scream 2, Too: The prospect of a Wes Craven-less era of Scream was a dicey one when the fifth entry, titled simply Scream in a nod to the naming conventions of most “franchise refreshes,” came out just last year. It was a decent enough time: the new cast was mainly effective, and it captured the general feel of Kevin Williamson’s pitch-perfect lampooning of the slasher genre and all its tropes.
But screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick struggled with being a bit Too Online, trying and failing to elevate the series’ finger-on-the-pulse understanding of horror and the demands of its audience for an online era where basically everyone is a self-styled horror expert. In trying to thumb its nose at the nature of requels, it got lost in an ouroboros of reference and forgot to actually be scary.
Fret not, dear reader, because the same team sharpened its knives in the intervening year for Scream VI, a vital, deeply fun follow-up that gleefully takes the series in new directions while honoring the legacy of what came before.
It all starts, as expected, with the usual scary phone call, this time centering on a film professor (Samara Weaving, one of several game appearances from the cast of directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Ready or Not) led down a dark alley by Ghostface’s signature voice modulator. But once the expected comes to pass, the opener keeps going, opening up fun new layers to the Ghostface phenomenon that the rest of the film reckons with to delicious effect.
From there, it’s a spiritual sequel to Scream 2, with its college setting and new suite of love interests (Josh Segarra’s underutilized charmer from across the hall), roommates (Jack Champion, Liana Liberato), and concerned cops (Dermot Mulroney, who has a blast as a vengeful detective who, in series tradition, deputizes these literal children to help him solve the case).
There’s no Neve Campbell to speak of — her absence is addressed with a shrugging mention from Gale — but luckily, the new characters are so well-drawn you don’t miss her. In fact, her absence gives Cox’s Gale and Panetierre’s Kirby plenty of chances to shine in the margins, the latter’s return an especially campy treat for series fans. (She’s an FBI agent now, which gives her just enough of a silly backstory to raise eyebrows about whether she might be the newest killer.)
Crucially, Scream VI‘s brushes with the metafictional aren’t quite as suffocating as they are this time, freeing Vanderbilt and Busick to give us some quality time with characters both old and new, and it’s easier to root for their victory as a result. Barrera was especially underserved last time, but here she handily steps into Neve Campbell’s shoes as the haunted survivor, the person whose response to such acute trauma is to turn her guard up to an alienating degree. (Skeet Ulrich’s de-aged reflection still lingers in her head, after all, telling her to follow her killer calling.)
Our new protagonists, funnily enough, are two sets of siblings, which puts a sweet new angle on the bond they’ve built together; Sam and Tara bristle with relatable big sister/little sister issues of control and responsibility, and the Meeks’ instant bond lends further charm to the ways they help and support each other through the crisis. It’s relatively warm and fuzzy, considering all the disembowelings around them.
Eric Adams Would Have a Field Day: Sure, the characters have a bit more life to them, but what about the kills? Luckily, Scream VI has plenty of gnarly ones to spare, the New York setting offering plenty of new opportunities for Ghostface to shank unsuspecting victims in novel settings. No floundering around in suburban brownstones this time — Ghostface tracks his prey through city streets, abandoned movie theaters, and more. (Even the prototypical bodega-clerk-with-a-shotgun isn’t enough to overcome the killer’s supernatural sense of speed.)
New York may not be suburbia, but it carries its own unique terrors: even if you try to hide in plain sight — in, say, a subway car — he might still be able to get ya, and no one around you will be the wiser. The closest we get to a good old-fashioned dash around an elegantly-furnished domicile is with Gale, who finally gets a bonafide showdown with Ghostface for the first time in the series; it’s so satisfying to watch.
The Verdict: Scream VI has a lot stacked against it: The waning potency of meta-horror, the innate doldrums of late-franchise entries, the weak-tea foundation the previous film set them on. So it’s a relief to report that Scream VI bounces back with all the stamina of a half-dead Ghostface, taking its core cast of likable characters and fleshing them out in ways that make them stand toe-to-toe with their predecessors. It’s well-paced, the kills are inventive, and the gags largely land, especially for hardcore Scream devotees. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett finally have a lock on the amped-up Scooby-Doo mystery tone of Craven’s era, and that’s a blessing.
Where’s It Playing? Scream VI takes the B(lood) Train to theaters on March 10th.