Scary Scream VI Delivers Slasher Goods

The latest installment delivers exactly what it intends to—vicious scares, excellent horror sequences and likable, well-acted characters.

7 mins read

One of the best slasher films in ages, Scream VI is a surprisingly good thriller that delivers exactly what it intends to—vicious scares, excellent horror set pieces and likable, well-acted characters to buoy the terror. It has been some time since the movies have seen a stalk-and-slash picture done with this much visceral ingenuity, and directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin have exceeded the assignment. 

Scream VI’s near complete success comes on the heels of last year’s wan reboot Scream reboot, which failed to generate a single genuine scare and suggested the series was fresh out of new ideas (though it did manage to kill off beloved regular Officer Dewey, played by the always welcome David Arquette).

In a shrewd move, the action has been moved from sleepy Californian hamlet Woodsboro to the busy borough of NYC’s Manhattan, a reconfiguration injecting new life and spatial dynamism—you should be able to hide easily in a big city, right?—to the relentless Ghostface killer’s bloody pursuits. 

In a terrific opening sequence setting the tone for the savagery to come, Samara Weaving is a film studies teacher (specializing in slasher films, of course) awaiting a tardy Tindr date in a tony upscale eaterie where she gets one of the film’s great lines, a direct reference to (and put down of) the 1996 original before a gruesome encounter ensues.  

Enter new series leads Melissa Barrerra (In the Heights) and Wednesday’s Jena Ortega, returning as surviving sisters Sam (Barrera) and Tara (Ortega). Sam is PTSD-stricken from her last showdown with the masked killer while Tara has moved on and is enrolled in college. Overprotective of younger Tara, emotionally unbalanced Sam is also the target of internet smear campaign fingering her as the last outing’s actual Ghostface, getting away with a string of murders. 

Younger Tara brushes off the past for the freedom of frat parties, saved from a potential date rape by buddy Chad (Mason Gooding). Also on hand is Chad’s sister Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) who, in one of the movie’s best scenes, diagrams the new and improved, meta-clever “rules” of franchise horror films. Mindy’s love interest Anika (Devyn Akoda) is a group hanger on and rounding out this crew is bookish virgin Ethan (Avatar: The Way of Water’s Jack Champion).

On the periphery are Sam’s sexed up roommate Quinn (Liana Liberato), a shirtless “cute guy” neighbor (Josh Segarra) flirting with Sam from across the way, a concerned psychiatrist (Henry Czerny) and, once the murders start, Detective Bailey (Dermot Mulroney), both aided and usurped by the return of Scream 4’s Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere, having good fun), now an FBI agent determined to ferret out the killer.

While Neve Campbell’s contract dispute led to a public walkaway from this installment, Courtney Cox returns in her signature role of tabloid TV personality and true crime author Gale Weathers, doing her own investigative legwork which leads to a brutal, bloody standoff with the killer. But just who is behind the murder spree?

As always, there are the usual red herrings, possible copycats and “don’t trust anyone” suspicions. There are also a few surprises which will go unmentioned, including the semi-return of a legacy cast member. What can be said is that the picture, smartly written by James Vanderbilt (who wrote and directed the terrific 2015 Robert Redford-Cate Blanchett true life investigating journalism picture Truth) and Guy Busick (who penned 2019’s Ready or Not which made actress Weaving a star) moves at a rapid clip, continues topping itself with the tensest movie stalking in ages, revels in gleeful gore and mounts several top-notch sequences providing genuine suspense. It also pauses for some nicely played character moments including a late picture exchange between Gail and Samantha regarding family regrets.

A film like Scream VI works if two things are in alignment—likable young people and primal scares. This picture is adept at each. Barrera is a terrific listener and underplayer; unlike many of her contemporaries, she eschews every opportunity to act, going for scaled realism which pays off when she goes big in the final reel. Especially effective is the chemistry between the self-described “core four” leads; we like them and care about what happens to them. The film knows this and ultimately betrays its stated franchise rules for who can/can’t be killed. At one point a character says to another, “How are you still alive?” Indeed, the amount of stabbing endured here—many, many bodily piercings—would surely be enough to take anyone out.

On the second score, the film delivers as a horror film by knowing when to remove its tongue from its cheek and take the terror seriously, as during an early alleyway scene that uses a swift, abrupt shock. Another, set in a convenience store, uses silence to considerable effect. And a bravura sequence involving a ladder escape is perhaps the film’s apex. There is also a smart allusion to Hitchock’s Rear Window and a Halloween night subway ride cleverly paying tribute to great movie villains.

Finally, the picture’s climax, which will not be described here, is so well shot and staged—I particularly liked a moment where one character is hanging from a balcony and how that dilemma is solved—that you can feel you are in the hands of a film made by pros with a love of genre dictates while pushing their franchise into new directions.

Scream VI is good entertainment with its superlative (and very nasty) horror sequences and Barrera’s impressive performance as a young woman slipping back and forth between recovery and the darker impulses of her lineage.


3 stars

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