Scream VI Review – Congratulations! Scream is Now Officially a Franchise for Better or Worse

The Scream franchise has had its highs and lows yet remains essentially watchable even when it’s not firing on all cylinders. Losing Wes Craven in 2015 was a blow to the entire horror community. He made at least one genre classic(s) for every decade he was working, sometimes several; Red Eye (2005) is a classic and no arguments against that certifiable fact will be considered. The genius who created some of the most disturbing horror in the 1970s turned his hand to teen horror in the 1980s and launched A Nightmare on Elm Street. In the mid 1990s he once again reinvigorated the teen slasher with the wildly popular Scream, written by Kevin Williamson. A meta-textual delight with knowing jokes and gruesome kills, Ghostface became the new Freddy Krueger for a generation who grew up knowing the phrase “never sleep again.” It also featured one of the best final girls since Nightmare’s Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) in Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott. Scream had its imitators (I Know What You Did Last Summer for example) and spawned a new parody movie series, ironically titled Scary Movie (ironic as that was Williamson’s original script title for what became Scream).

There is a reason that the reader is being reminded about how iconic Scream is. Because before the dissection of the latest flaccid entry into the Scream-verse is eviscerated it is essential to remember that it was a watershed moment in teen horror and that Craven and Williamson’s creation will always be timeless. However, when the latest iteration of Ghostface declares “Who gives a fuck about movies?” we know something in the waters isn’t right.

Building from Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s (Ready or Not) ‘requel’ in 2022, then just titled Scream but now stylised as 5cream or Scream V to avoid confusion, we follow the Carpenter sisters, Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega) to NYC and life on campus at Blackmore College. Also leaving Woodsboro are twins Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding) Meeks-Martin who survived a series of Ghostface attacks. They form the ‘Core four’ of the sequel to the requel and frankly are deeply difficult to care about at all.

If you haven’t seen any of the Scream-verse by now there really isn’t a reason to be reading the review, but here is a spoiler warning for the other films just in case.

Scream films have always had a core cruelty hidden within their meta-humour. Ghostface is a particularly savage killer and, with the exception of Scream 3 and 5cream,has an axe to grind with the protagonist. Billy Loomis was intent on punishing Sidney for her mother’s transgressions. In Scream 2 which moved Sidney and Randy to college, we saw Billy’s mother turn up to give Sidney a serve for the death of her son. In Scream 4 Sidney’s niece wanted to capitalise on her aunt’s trauma-based fame. There is a through line here, Sidney Prescott. Making a Scream film without Neve Campbell is a mistake. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett brought her back for their requel, along with legacy characters Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) to give their film gravitas and prop up the new protagonists. It worked to an extent, although it was ostensibly Sam and Tara’s stories, all eyes were on Sidney “fucking” Prescott.

Pay disputes apparently kept Neve Campbell from the set of Scream VI (honestly, why does this keep happening?) and our legacy characters are once again Gale Weathers and a new addition, the previously thought dead, Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) who is now an FBI agent.

When Ghostface attacks and kills a Blackmore College film professor in the opening sequence, it isn’t long before the core four of Sam, Tara, Mindy, and Chad realise that the killer has followed them to campus and has a particular distaste for Sam, who like Laurie Strode and Sidney Prescott before her has been a target of victim blaming. Ghostface wants to “punish” Sam – which means it is personal, but who could the killer be? Some suspects are quickly dispatched which leads Mindy (the Randy Meeks of 5cream and this film) to point out that they are now in, surprise surprise, a franchise. And in a franchise, all bets are off. Main characters can be killed, no one is safe. Unlike ‘franchises’ like Halloween or Friday the 13th the Scream-verse has never retconned characters. We don’t have to worry that Billy Loomis might no longer be Sam’s father (like Laurie and Michael Myers being siblings and then not). But, in a franchise whatever is best to keep the IP going is what will happen (For England, James).

Our suspect pool is basically everyone, including Tara and Sam’s new roommate Quinn Bailey (Liana Liberato), Chad’s milquetoast roommate Ethan (Jack Champion), Mindy’s new girlfriend Anika (Devyn Kekoda) and Sam’s secret hook-up, the cute guy from across the way, Danny Brackett (Josh Segarra). As the film slogs along the suspect pool shrinks and widens. Could it be Quinn’s father Detective Bailey (Dermot Mulroney), or even Kirby Reed?

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have a lot of fun keeping the audience guessing but there is a sense that they are having more fun playing with Craven’s iconography more than they are concerned with giving us a reason to invest in Sam and Tara. Sam’s documented “dark side” which was a lynchpin of the previous film is brought up here and there but isn’t properly explored. Sam is basically there to protect Tara and Tara is there to be the new final girl (Melissa Barberra’s popularity is in no way comparable to Jenna Ortega’s and the writers and directors know it, which leads to Sam’s character arc going nowhere).

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett were hungry to take on Scream in 2022. In 2023 they are going through the motions. Ghostface gets some incredibly violent kills (possibly more violent than any other entry) and they saturate their world with horror film references like Craven did before them. One of the issues with their film is they don’t have a wealth of cinematic delights to draw upon like Craven did. There is a passing reference to Ready or Not in the Halloween costumes on the subway, but it doesn’t equal having Craven himself dressed in Freddy Krueger’s sweater playing a janitor. All they have to rely on is the Scream films themselves, which Kirby explains in exhausting detail in a shrine dedicated to the Woodsboro killings.

There are some good jokes – one in particular about writing Letterboxd review for clout. Another has one of the film students being pissy about getting a low grade on their Argento paper. There is also some good commentary on the internet and conspiracies and how easy it is to plant a seed that someone is guilty of something in the QAnon age. Gale is reliably running her gauntlet between exploiting people’s trauma to genuinely wanting to help. The film isn’t a total loss – like stated previously, all Scream films are watchable.

However, when Mindy points out that they are in a franchise and franchises are all about going bigger, weirder, more over the top than the previous entry, she’s describing the film itself. Yes, it’s bigger – they are in NYC and it sure ain’t Woodsboro (or Kansas for that matter), the kills are definitely more OTT than the previous entries. But what happens with franchises? They eventually become product and Scream VI is product. Just as main characters can be killed off (and Scream has done this) because they’re disposable to the overarching franchise, they can also be underwritten and under realised. Why exactly should the audience invest in Sam and Tara? Mindy is likeable, but who really cares about Chad? Is Kirby there for any reason except fan service? (Hayden Panettiere gives a performance that suggests that’s the only reason.) The film runs on what Craven and Williamson built but constantly reminds you that Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are not Craven – they don’t have his eye nor his legacy.

Sidney Prescott is sorely missed, but with what Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett have put on the table Neve Campbell can be pleased that she dodged a blade. Scream VI is empty calories that takes its dynastic roots and squanders them. Super fans will have moments of joy and recognition, but they will soon be dulled when they realise that’s all they are getting – recognition of other Scream films and not a movie that is propulsive nor interesting in its own right.

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett

Cast: Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jasmin Savoy Brown

Writers: James Venderbilt, Guy Busick, (based on characters created by Kevin Williamson)

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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