Scream (2022) brought us back to familiar beats in Woodsboro, re-establishing some of the beloved tropes of Scream (1996) with a modern film fandom twist. The “requel” ushered in a new era for Ghostface killers and their victims. It was an ode to Wes Craven’s legacy and the franchise. Juggling the nearly 30-year-old lore was difficult, and the film struggled with its tone — too indebted to what came before. The latest installment, directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, is a smoother attempt. Scream VI focuses on its story, character development, and terror. Allowing Ghostface to slice through New York City intensifies the kills and thrills, bringing them to new heights. It's a wonderful entry that acknowledges and honors its predecessors while cementing itself as a fresh and self-sustaining film.
Scream 2 (1997), the film brings us back into the lives of the remaining Woodsboro survivors a year following the murders, to the Big Apple. Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) pursues her education at Blackmore University with the Meeks-Martin twins Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding). Tara's protective older sister, Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) — the daughter of Billy Loomis — lives with her sister. Sam attempts to navigate her haunting past while the others choose to move on, but Ghostface has other plans.
One of Scream VI’s significant strengths is the film's new setting. From dark and shadowy alleyways to a corner bodega, crammed subway trains, and a penthouse view of Manhattan, the New York City set pieces are utilized to their full potential. It proves to be a brilliant environment as the characters maneuver the claustrophobic urban landscape, showcasing just how cruel the killer beneath the Ghostface is and their ability to hide in plain sight. The fast pacing is also an achievement. The kills are nasty, and the chase scenes are visceral. The film's Halloween setting is an enjoyable and eerie touch, with horror film costumes flooding the city streets.
The return of cut-throat journalist Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), using her scrappy investigating skills to unmask the killer, is fantastic. It's about time she gets recognized as a final girl in the franchise. Her face-off with Ghostface is one of the film’s highlights, full of classic physical chaos reminiscent of Craven. Film nerd turned FBI agent Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) from Scream 4 shines and is quick off the mark, particularly in her intimate conversation with Mindy as they connect over their mutual love for the horror genre. However, the reintroduction to the “Core 4”, as they charmingly call themselves, is particularly satisfying.
The care of Sam as the protagonist in Scream was unsuccessful, but in this film, she’s more compelling and rounded. Sam has grit and doesn’t mind getting messy to protect her loved ones. However, the depiction of Sam’s mental health is still poor with the usage of off-putting Billy Loomis hallucinations. Barrera is more confident in her role and effectively conveys Sam’s anti-hero characteristics. Ortega, Gooding, and Brown top off the found family theme within the film, even if the infamous “rules monologue” doesn’t have the same Randy Meeks bite we’re used to. In the fifth installment, these characters felt forced upon us and were secondary to the golden trio of Sidney, Dewey, and Gale. Scream VI takes its time to enrich the personalities and relationships of the Core 4, and they finally feel like real people audiences can root for.
Returning screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick weave complex themes into the story, such as coping mechanisms for trauma and how different grief looks on each survivor. It's the most pointed the Scream franchise has been about the unique bond between survivors. Vanderbilt and Busick disrupt our expectations for sequels by critiquing franchise cash grabs that recycle the same stories, prey on half-baked nostalgia, and entrap their characters in never-ending trauma. These interesting critiques are utilized purposefully to reflect the character’s stories.
The film's final act isn’t the sprawled reveal that often closes these films but a controlled and character-motivated one. The only real disappointment is moments that lean into nonsense. Many characters are fatally wounded, having been stabbed or shot multiple times, and somehow they survive. Another weak point is the dialogue's inconsistent quality. For instance, Sam and Tara's sisterhood discussions teeter into cliche melodrama, but the actors do their best to sell it.
Despite the film's few shortcomings, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett up their game in every way. The Scream movies have always brought a certain coziness that was missing in the fifth installment, but they've found the perfect tonal balance here. They use the franchise's lengthy past to its advantage, bringing the right amount of nostalgia and subversion that surprises in this New York City thrill ride. As Stu Macher once said, “It’s a scream, baby!”