A film review by Craig J. Koban May 16, 2023


2023, R, 123 mins.

Melissa Barrera as Sam Carpenter  /  Jenna Ortega as Tara Carpenter  /  Jasmin Savoy Brown as Mindy Meeks-Martin  /  Mason Gooding as Chad Meeks-Martin  /  Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers  /  Hayden Panettiere as Kirby Reed  /  Dermot Mulroney as Detective “Wayne” Bailey  /  Liana Liberato as Quinn Bailey  /  Jack Champion as Ethan Landry  /  Devyn Nekoda as Anika Kayoko  /  Josh Segarra as Danny Brackett  /  Samara Weaving as Laura Crane  /  Tony Revolori as Jason Carvey

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett  /  Written by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick

There's a current WGA strike occurring in Hollywood right now, which has led to some online chatter about the potential implementation of A.I. programs to finish work off that actual human writers started.  

Yeah, I l know...that sounds utterly asinine.  How could an A.I. program capture the heart and soul of a person constructing a screenplay?  Beats me.     

Then I watched SCREAM VI - yes...six! - and afterwards I noticed that it was written by James Vanderbuilt and Guy Busick (as well as being directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who helmed the last SCREAM in 2022).  Coming out of this sequel, I was left with the nagging sensation that people didn't conceive and pen this latest installment in this franchise that has spanned nearly thirty years.  It sure felt like the product of a heartless and soulless A.I. program that hits every perfunctory beat in the book.  Its idea of originality is pulling a JASON TAKES MANHATTAN and moving the story from Woodsboro to the Big Apple.  Beyond the film's change in scenery, though, SCREAM VI is a repetitious and monumentally dull sequel on pure autopilot and is proof positive that this once ultra sly meta horror series is on its last gasp for air.

Here's the other thing: Remember way, way back in the day when SCREAM was considered cutting edge and subversive?  

When the late Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson conceived the first SCREAM back in the mid-1990s it worked so famously because it radically found ways to make this well worn genre feel fresh and alive again.  The pair understood the stale and overused nature of slasher troupes and wisely had all-knowing characters within the film acknowledge them.  These horror-film self-aware personas used their knowledge of the genre to help keep themselves one step ahead of the actual killers.  SCREAM embraced and criticized the finest and laziest aspects of horror troupes, and did so to equal effect in its first sequel a few years later and, to a lesser degree, in its third film.  Then came 2012's SCREAM IV, which tried to recapture the first SCREAM's creative mojo, but mostly felt like a copy of a copy.  Then came last year's SCREAM (technically five, but confusingly omitted in the title), which felt even more like a copy of a copy of a copy.  That rebootquel also annoyed me, because its makers thought they were being shrewd about horror formulas, but only ended up slavishly falling victim to them.  Now with the inevitable SCREAM VI (the last one packed cinemas!), it's clear that this series is driven more by dollar signs than any level of spirited innovation.  It might be the most cheaply generic and forgettable of the whole lot.   

SCREAM VI takes up shortly after the events of SCREAM (the 2022 SCREAM, not the 1996 SCREAM...so confusing!), which, uh huh, places the key characters right smack dab in the middle of New York and well away from (they think) any of the past horrors that the Ghostface killer has enacted in the poor town of Woodsboro.  Sam (Melissa Barrera, IN THE HEIGHTS' utterly luminous star, here reduced to running and screaming a lot) has relocated to New York with her half-sister in Tara (Jenna Ortega, equally talented, but equally slumming it in this series), with both hoping to settle down and reclaim their sanity by attending college.  Of course, both are traumatized by the recent Ghostface murders in Woodsboro one year earlier.  Even though Sam remains highly protective of Tara and is hopelessly paranoid that evil will find a way of catching up to them again, she tries as best as she can to settle down to a life of normalcy with friends Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding).  And - wouldn't ya know it? - a new Ghostface does, in fact, appear in New York and starts carving up new victims, leaving Sam and Tara reliving the same nightmare again.  Detective Bailey (Dermot Mulroney) takes the case and tries to make sense of it all, but F.B.I. Agent Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) who - after surviving her own standoff with a different Ghostface back in SCREAM IV - is now on the case as well and with personal history serving as her guide.  And we also get that pesky investigative journalist, Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), back for the ride as well.  

Spooky phone calls are made, suspects line up, clues surface, red herrings rear their ugly heads, would-be shocking reveals occur in the final act...yadda...yadda...yadda.



I'm going to be awfully fair to SCREAM VI by saying that it has two interesting sequences.  The first one being the opening, which features a cameo by Samara Weaving (so fantastic in the directors' infinitely better horror comedy READY OR NOT), whose character is waiting for a date to show up during one dark New York night.  She's a film professor who has an unfortunate first meeting with the new Ghostface killer, but SCREAM VI offers up a very neat couple of twists in the early stages that got me initially compelled, but this never really gets capitalized on as the story progresses.  The second sequence features Ghostface stalking Sam, Tara, and Quinn at their apartment, which leads to them fleeing to the next one across the alley via a shaky ladder connecting one building's widow to the next and several floors above ground.  Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett drum up modest levels of decent suspense here.  There's a set-piece later on featuring the frightened women trying to evade Ghostface while on a jam-packed subway that tries to generate similar eerie vibes, but manages to fall somewhat short.  The gore factor of the kills in SCREAM VI seems to be given more prominence this time, which is a mistake, I think, because this sequel is more gruesome than it ever is truly terrifying.     

And speaking of New York.  Wow.  What a waste.  I remember that aforementioned FRIDAY THE 13TH sequel that pulled a lame bit of bait and switch in terms of fully delivering on the promise of Jason mass murdering his way through New York.  SCREAM VI is not as shamefully false on the advertising front, but the makers here never find a way of making the city a secondary character in its own right here.  New York is a metropolis of easily identifiable sights and sounds, but most of the action in SCREAM VI takes place in non-specific alleys, apartments, public transportation, and so forth, to the point where it could literally have been set in any modern city.  Why have NYC as your setting and then not emphasize its unique personality?  The real reason for this clearly resides with the fact that Montreal was used as a stand-in for NYC, and in painfully shows in the final product.  NYC is rarely, if ever, convincingly portrayed here.  Why not just do something truly clever, like actually set it in Montreal and have the characters flee far away from Woodsboro?  Think of the compelling flavor that a Francophone and Anglophone cultural mixture could have lent to this series to mix things up?  I grew dizzy just thinking about what they could have done with this sequel.

SCREAM VI builds towards - as they all have - a climatic showdown between all of the hero victims and the Ghostface attacker, during which time allegiances are drawn, surprise reveals of the identity of the killer come through, and all out chaos ensues.  This might be the weakest outing of the franchise in terms of keeping the audience off balance and guessing when it comes to its plot twists.  Plus, if you follow Roger Ebert's Law of Character Conservation closely, then it will be fundamentally easy to deduce who this Ghostface monster is this time, well before any of the characters do.  Overt silliness stymies any potential tensions or thrills in these final moments, and it's all enough to throw your hands in the air and shake your head in disgust.  And speaking of frustrating, the manner that SCREAM VI deals with the absence of long-time SCREAM mainstay in Neve Campbell's Sidney Prescott is beyond lame (essentially, her whereabouts are relayed in some throwaway dialogue...and that's it).  Campbell wisely avoided appearing in SCREAM VI like the plague, mostly because of a well publicized salary dispute with the producers (she was getting seriously low-balled in this regard), but maybe it also had something to do with the fact that...all in all...perhaps the SCREAM franchise is well past its expiry date of relevance and quality.   

I'm personally leaning towards the latter, myself.  

SCREAM VI may have fleeting moments of fan service-y entertainment value for die-hards of this series, but as for the rest of us, this uninspired and lethargic sequel will be a hard watch to sit through.  More of the same is a highly apt descriptor here, seeing as the lackluster writing only seems keen on regurgitating greatest hits conventions that once made for solid series entries, but now feel old and archaic.  Worst yet, SCREAM VI has virtually none of the smarts or sophistication of the early films back in the 1990s when it comes to actually commenting on the very nature of horror cinema and those that consume it.  Wes Craven's original films were game changers in this regard, whereas these new films are all about rebranding and repackaging what worked before and passing it on to a new generation...albeit while forgetting what actually worked before.  If 2022's SCREAM placed this series on critical life support, then SCREAM VI represents the pulling of the plug and the subsequent final nail in the coffin being struck.  

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