In 1996, Scream broke the rules of horror movies by mentioning the rules of horror movies. The film was released before the term “meta” became integrated into society’s vernacular and far before it became entwined with Mark Zuckerberg’s multi-billion dollar social media platform. The self-referential slasher became the first of its kind. Scream was a movie where the characters knew the rules they were playing by and fell into the unique traps of the genre anyway.
That was more than 26 years and four sequels ago. In 2023, billion-dollar franchises have accumulated years of continuity where characters regularly roast their genre’s formulas and tropes, all while succumbing to those same tropes. Legacy horror franchises have risen from the grave with their own “requels,” or combination reboots and sequels which brought back original characters, plot points, and, yes, self-referential twists reminiscent of the original Scream.
More recently, the Scream franchise’s meta formula has given way to what has become the franchise’s strongest suit, not the gruesome violence but instead a “killer” whodunnit. The films have a way of providing an arsenal of characters, placing them in front of you, and letting you guess which one is behind that Ghostface mask.
In 2022 the Scream franchise set off on its “requel” journey with Scream 5, introducing a new cast of characters with loose and sometimes difficult-to-believe connections to the original Scream crew.
Scream VI sees the return of that film’s survivors, along with the lone original cast member from the series, Courteney Cox, as Gale Weathers. Joining her from the 2022 film is Melissa Barrera as Sam Carpenter, the tenuously plotted daughter of original Scream baddie Billy Loomis, Jenna Ortega, reigning queen of macabre just off of her role as the titular character in the Netflix series “Wednesday,” as Tara Carpenter, Sam’s little sister. Also returning is Hayden Panettiere as Kirby Reed.
In Scream VI, we find the Carpenter sisters doing what all Scream franchise survivors do, struggling to get along. In this version, Sam and Tara have relocated to New York City, as have fellow Woodsboro murder survivors Chad and Mindy. Sam is seeing a therapist, trying to cope with her newfound and unwanted fame (or infamy), and Tara is doing her best to have fun like a typical teen in college. Of course, a new Ghostface has some alternate plans.
From the word go, Scream VI does its best to subvert your expectations, and in many ways, the movie begins by doing just that. The film has a dynamite opening that will both thrill and surprise those familiar with the tropes of a Scream movie.
The issues begin as the screenplay falls back into those tropes. Scream VI is fearless in approaching the slasher genre with the same meta attitude as its five predecessors. A scene in the second act is purposefully reminiscent of a scene in the 1996 original where the original group discusses that everyone present is a suspect in the ongoing Woodsboro murders. In the 2023 edition, the discussion is about requels, sequels to requels, and the evil of franchises. After all, franchises are all about money, and those in charge don’t spare the main characters. Even Luke Skywalker’s death in The Last Jedi is cited as evidence anyone is vulnerable to this version of Ghostface.
For a movie whose characters seem to hate franchises, it sure is part of one. Scream VI is so intent on convincing its viewers that it is not just some typical sequel of a requel, while it swiftly becomes just that. After a hot start, the film falls into a malaise of melodrama, logic problems, and on-the-nose moments that remove the teeth from any of the film’s more violent kills.
For example, at one point in the film, a character watches a clip from the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where Dr. Bennell screams at the audience, “They’re here already. You’re next.” Subtle Scream VI is not.
What the movie does have going for it is the effortless charisma of Jenna Ortega. Easy to like, Ortega’s Tara feels like she should be the lead Scream VI, even if the writers built the franchise’s mythology around her on-screen sister Sam. Barrera, as Sam, does a fine job leading the film but does not bring the same magnetism that Ortega does.
Scream VI has a great opening sequence, eventually brings a fun whodunnit to the screen, and is good enough for slasher fans to enjoy themselves. However, the film’s weaknesses lie in its insistence that it is not just another unremarkable entry into a franchise before becoming an unremarkable entry into a franchise.