In 1984, The Muppets took Manhattan. In 1989, Jason took Manhattan. In 2023, it’s finally Ghostface’s turn. Scream VI pushes last years requel into the franchise category with the numeral being slashed up front and center. This isn’t a bad thing though because Scream VI improves upon its predecessors by changing its own rules to become better than ever with some incredible twists and jamming in some truly memorable kills that rank high amongst a franchise filled with them.
Scream VI picks up a year after the last film with the Carpenter sisters journey after the Woodsboro killings. Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega) have moved to the big apple (the same one from Seinfeld) to start a new life with brother/sister duo Chad (Mason Gooding) and Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), who also survived the killings. Sam is struggling much more externally after the events of the last film and the discovery of her connection to Billy Loomis, the original Ghostface. As it goes, the internet has cooked up a million theories to vilify Sam as a monster to say she was behind the killings of the first film. Their fresh start quickly crumbles as the black-cloaked, Halloween-masked killer, Ghostface, swiftly returns to make the core fours life a living hell.
Scream VI may have the strongest opening in the franchise since the first film’s tone setting with Drew Barrymore. It’s something better watched than read about so I won’t dive into spoilers. It’s a clever use of expectations set by previous films to make it clear that Scream VI is its own film. Some sequels feel trapped by former installments while this film feels driven by them to do things differently.
While Scream 2 showed us a world where the first set of Woodsboro murders was turned into a successful film. Scream VI shows us one where they couldn’t sell the book rights and the “final girl” was made into a monster. It’s a distinct POV from both entries on the time period they happened in. In 2023, conspiracy theories have become fact for so many that it’s bled into every aspect of their lives. They’re used like weapons to shape false narratives by those who start and believe them. The writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick use this very modern problem to direct the Carpenter sisters’ story. Even if Tara has started a new life at college, she is still the sister of the “monster” Sam which brings up many issues in the film. It’s an interesting re-purposing of post-trauma reactions. Sidney got a movie about her trauma while Tara got a subreddit where people make fan edits of the people who tried to kill her. Each film builds on the one before it in very different ways so seeing the sequels do something very different is why the franchise has stayed top level horror.
A large portion of Scream VI does rely on the franchise’s history, but never in a way that feels “oh remember when…”. Instead, each reference is to build out the world of Scream. Legacy is a different breed in Scream VI because Ghostface isn’t a recurring character but a mask dawned by many people. It’s a tool used by sickos to to carry out their deranged crimes while torturing victims with references. The character isn’t like Freddy or Jason because there is always someone different under the mask with a different motivation. While the truth behind the mask is the weakest part of the film for me, it still delivers on the typical Ghostface strengths. There are some really memorable kills and phone calls that carry on the legacy of the masked slasher. There is also a scene where he gets a shotgun which absolutely rules because Ghostface has been in a Call of Duty so it tracks. Jokes aside, this film only strengthens the Ghostface brand for whoever the next killer under the mask may be.
When Scream VI makes reference to other horror franchises and the slasher genre itself, it’s more a satirical stab rather than a clickbait-driven Easter Egg hunt. Sure, there are references to countless films including Scream itself but they never feel thrown in just to be there. The film relies more on its spectacular cast rather than cheap uses of nostalgia. There is a museum in the film dedicated to the Ghostface killers of the world that fits very well with the tone the film strikes. It doesn’t feel like the opportunity just to show off what came before but rather to strengthen where we are with the franchise. There is one line that is going to get a huge pop for its meta commentary on fan theories of who survives in the Scream lore.
Scream VI not only brings back its surviving cast from the previous film but also brings others along with it. Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) returns once again with maybe her best performance yet. She serves as a reminder of legacy of the first 3 films after Neve Campbell chose not to return because the studio didn’t want to pay her adequately. But Gale isn’t the only legacy return because Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) returns from Scream 4. Her character was actually killed by a Ghostface but was revived so her trauma is slightly different from the others. It was very cool to see some representation for Scream 4 which is an underrated installment in the franchise which I feel most people will talk you ear off about. Her inclusion shows how another survivor has dealt with their trauma and what came next for them. It’s an interesting reflection to Tara who is still struggling very deeply with everything while Kirby has seemingly used it to drive her.
But Scream VI isn’t about those other survivors, it’s about its own core four and how legacy is actually something modern horror doesn’t put on a pedestal. Everyone is fair game in a modern slasher for a kill on Ghostface’s ledger. It’s something specifically called out during the film’s “Rules” scene which is expertly delivered by Mindy. Mindy and her brother Chad were actually my favorite characters in the film. They both bring a lot of humor to an otherwise deadly situation. Being funny is one thing but both Jasmine Savoy-Brown and Mason Gooding bring incredibly deep performances. Gooding’s character Chad is given the space to show incredible chemistry with Jenna Ortega’s character that allows him to flex his more emotional skills in some really well-paced scenes. Savoy-Brown, on the other hand, gets to have one of the best horror scenes in the film. She sells the scene so well in what is a perfect blend of acting and use of lighting. Both performances left me wanting to see more from their wonderful sibling combo in New York City.
With moving a franchise to a big new fancy location like New York City, there is always the chance of things becoming gimmicky. Scream VI avoids all of that with the backdrop being used to the films advantage but never over used. There are scenes like the bodega that was featured heavily in the trailer that feel authentic to a big city. There are other scenes that filled me with dread from the real life fear of big city living. Through Scream VI, the directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have used the city to their full advantage to tell a natural story rather than shoehorning in the Empire State Building so audiences could landmark spot. NYC is its own character to the film and a really good next step to expanding the franchise out of a small town.
As Jason did before him, Ghostface makes his attempt to leave his mark on New York City with Scream VI. While I love Friday the 13th, I think Scream VI takes the cake on horror in the Big Apple. With a timely view of the fallout from traumatic events, strong performances, and without falling into the nostalgia trap that it could have, Scream VI pushes the franchise into the next stages of what it can become.