Scream VI review: This gives the franchise a new lease of life
The sixth entry in the long-running slasher series continues to subvert expectations – and gives greater breathing space to the characters.
In the 1996 opening chapter of the Scream saga, director Wes Craven pulled off the tidy trick of simultaneously celebrating the horror genre and shining a lampooning light on its conventions and clichés. He and screenwriter Kevin Williamson managed to have their cake and eat it again the following year with Scream 2 – in which, naturally, tropes familiar to sequels were added to the mix of affectionate mockery.
Both films were gripping, tightly-plotted thrillers that dispatched their shocks with style and creativity, deserving of their place in the wider canon of quality fright flicks, and even inspiring the more determinedly gag-packed parodies of the so-so Scary Movie franchise. Inevitably, a law of diminishing returns set in for films three to five (the last of which, in 2022, was the first without Craven, who died seven years earlier), but six may prove to be a lucky number.
Back from movie five, co-directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin are arguably less wedded to the Craven legacy than before (the last outing had a character named Wes in his honour), and seize the opportunity to put their own stamp on affairs. As at least one player in every film has been at odds to point out, there is a rule book to this stuff, but it’s how one manipulates those rules that counts.
A fresh location is, initially, the most obvious change. Four young protagonists from the fifth instalment of the franchise (bafflingly, irritatingly released as just Scream) leave California and the blood-soaked scares of small town Woodsboro behind to start afresh in New York, that well-known sanctuary from violence and evil wrongdoing. But, what’s that? There’s yet another Ghostface having it large in the Big Apple? What are the odds?!
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The setting of a vast metropolis is key in taking the action into uncharted territory, the city itself an unfamiliar and intimidating slayground, and the narrative makes good use of the subway system as a place where terror could be lurking behind any platform pillar. Yet, still there’s no guarantee that one of our plucky friends from past films isn’t at least partially connected to the mayhem.
In the absence of erstwhile central figure Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell supposedly declining to be involved due to a dispute over pay), it’s left to Jenna Ortega as Tara to take on the mantle as the de facto viewer’s voice, the character around which most of the goings-on revolve, and she delivers another solid, nuanced performance. Melissa Barrera as her sister Sam and Jasmine Savoy Brown as the plot’s requisite film buff Mindy also offer a neat line in incredulity over the menaces that continue to follow them.
Old hand Courtney Cox makes hay as the only presence from every movie, and she does well with Gale Weathers’s ongoing transition from ruthless, cynical media hound to empathetic mother hen to the youngsters. Hayden Panettiere is back from the fourth film, although the elevation of her character Kirby from wisecracking teen to FBI special agent might be a bit of a stretch for some cinemagoers.
It serves little purpose to delve deeper into the plot here, as a large part of the Scream franchise's appeal is the films' gleefully presented surprises and twists, and once again the makers play savvy and subtle when suggesting who may or may not be the killers. Those killings may not be as inventive as previously, but fewer out-and-out improbable demises allow greater breathing space for the characters themselves to make more of an impression.
What hasn’t changed a jot is a determination to subvert expectations, to wrestle with the nuts and bolts of a story that acknowledges its formulaic pitfalls while seeking out new paths. There’s death aplenty here, but reassuring indications of a new lease of life.
Scream VI is released in UK cinemas on Friday 10th March. Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to see what's on tonight.
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