Scream VI first published by Little White Lies, 8 March 2023
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Scream VI opens with a phone call. This is like every Scream film – a franchise that started as a knowing postmodern take on the tropes of the slasher movie in general and the Halloween films in particular, but quickly became a knowing postmodern take on its own postmodern tropes. There is always an opening phone call, always the Ghostface Killer’s synthesised voice (always Roger L. Jackson) archly asking questions about ‘scary movies’.
Of course there are other in-house rules, like the overprotective attitude towards a small core of key characters who may get grievously injured and bear scars, but almost never get killed (the loss of legacy character Dewey in Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett’s previous ‘requel’ was the exception). Even franchise protagonist Sidney is not dead but just on leave until the producers can negotiate an equitable actor’s fee for Neve Campbell’s return. Half-sisters Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) and twins Chad (Chad Gooding) and Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown), all next-gen relatives from principal characters in Wes Craven’s 1996 original, are now a ‘team’ and even – in shades of the Fast and Furious franchise – ‘family’. Typically the solutions to the sequels’ masked mysteries are also related to family, fandom or both.
Then there are the little differences. The call at the beginning of Scream VI is for film studies associate professor Laura, who, far from being in the Scream films’ epicentre of Woodsboro, is waiting for a date in a swanky New York restaurant. Indeed, the rest of the film will unfold in the Big Apple (even if most of it was not shot there), where Chad, Mindy and Tara are attending Blackmore University – and where a fellow student, significantly named Jason (Tony Revolori), will be seen watching Rob Hedden’s similarly New York-set sequel Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. In a sign that Bettelli-Olpin and Gillett are putting their own stamp on the series, Laura is played by Samara Weaving, the final girl of their earlier Ready Or Not (although here very much the first to die) – and one unmasking comes disarmingly early.
Still, this is mostly business as usual: a Ghostfaced serial killer with an intimate knowledge of the Woodsboro murders is circling in on Tara and Sam. Old characters, both living and dead, resurface, while new characters are continuously added to the list of potential suspects or victims. Mindy may make a speech about how in a ‘requel sequel’ like this none of the old rules apply anymore – but really they do, as James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick’s screenplay stays remarkably true to the franchise’s now established norms. Even the red herrings are now a fixed part of the Scream menu.
Scream VI is well-made, fast-moving and often painfully brutal, while peppered with the kind of sassy, savvy dialogue that has always been a hallmark of the franchise. Yet while this, like all of the Scream sequels, might keep you guessing whodunnit and why, the climactic, convoluted reveal hardly seems to matter in comparison to all the thrilling slash and dash that lead to it.
strap: Sassy and suspenseful, yet tired and self-involved, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s meta-slasher ‘requel sequel’ proves that even in New York, old tropes die hard