It is certainly apropos that the newest entry in the Scream series is set in New York City. Much like the Big Apple, the film is loud, overcrowded, and hectic in its pacing.
Scream VI returns the self-designated “Core Four” from last year’s Richie-and-Amber-orchestrated slaughter. Sam (Melissa Barrera), Tara (Jenna Ortega), Chad (Mason Gooding), and Mindy (Jasmine Savoy Brown) have migrated cross-country to delve into East Coast college life, but remain as likable as ever. Both individually and collectively, the quartet conveys a mix of charisma, vulnerability, and badassery that proves quite engaging (although Sam’s ongoing struggle with being the illegitimate daughter of O.G. Ghostface Billy Loomis is growing tiresome as a storyline). The Core Four carry the film, and the actors’ performances are the only thing that saves Scream VI from being an absolute disaster.
Fans should be forewarned, though: the film is unabashedly violent, and doesn’t hesitate to punish victims, villains, and protagonists alike. Nobody emerges unscathed here–and that is part of the problem. [Mild spoiler] Brutalizing the heroes and subjecting them to gruesome knifings by Ghostface yet having them ultimately survive feels manipulative, a cheat. The unlikely resiliency of the Dewey Riley character in previous Screams has now expanded into a near cliché, one that results in diminishing returns in terms of audience investment in the horror.
Unfortunately, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett substitute savagery for subtlety and artistry (the latter seems limited here to the crafting of graphic kills). Scream VI eschews the series’ trademark humor, and sly meta-commentary on the horror genre gets minimalized. The mystery element is paltry, with clues dropped clunkily into the proceedings. For me (the same will be the case for many a viewer, I suspect), the identity of Ghostface was obvious very early on.
The film does feature a thrilling set piece in which the heroes desperately attempt to evade Ghostface by climbing across a ladder propped between the high windows of adjacent apartment buildings. A stabbing scene on a packed subway car is less effective, unstriking in its unoriginality (the costumed crowd doesn’t recognize attempted homicide in its midst because its Halloween!). Overall, the film fails to make compelling use of its new, NYC setting. In its focus on a secret, Ghostface-murderabilia-stocked shrine staged in an abandoned movie palace, the film approaches shark-jumping levels of hokeyness. Gale Weathers’s discovery, shortly after the killings begin, of this allegedly hidden lair emblematizes the film’s shortcomings. Gale’s offscreen discovery is less the product of good investigative journalism (as she claims) than bad scriptwriting–a facile and unconvincing attempt to propel the plot forward. In every sense, Scream VI feels like a rush job.
Safe to say, reckless escalation won’t sit well with slasher purists. When Ghostface takes up a pump action shotgun and attacks Sam and Tara in a local bodega (blowing away several innocent bystanders in the process), he threatens to push the film out of the horror genre and into the territory of gritty crime drama; imagine a Death Wish reboot directed by S. Craig Zahler.
One last critique. The “Suddenly Psycho” climax has always been one of the diciest aspects of the series. Billy and Stu pulled off the self-reveal admirably in the original, and Richie and Amber provided a fun revisiting of such craziness in last year’s Scream, but more often than not the batshit switch-flip has made for a jarring development. I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but let’s just say that Scream VI takes all this to the nth degree. After this, such hackneyed scene of hammy theatrics really needs to be left on the cutting room floor when the inevitable sequel is lensed.
With its sprawling urban mise-en-scène and over-the-top violence, Scream VI lacks intimacy, charm. For all the self-awareness (as expressed by the characters) of being caught in a “franchise” now, the film–a brazen deviation from the Craven/Williamson formula–consistently forgets what has made the series great over the past quarter century. A disappointing follow-up to last year’s clever and thrilling requel, this latest offering ranks alongside Scream 3 as the franchise’s lamest installment.