WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
‘Scream VI’ – the gory slasher is back
As expected after the success of 2022 ‘requel’ ‘Scream’, masked killer Ghostface is back in ‘Scream VI’. This time, though, the slasher action takes place against the backdrop of bustling New York City.
If you aren’t already a Scream fan, you probably won’t be watching Scream VI. Six films in, and this self-aware slasher series expects you to be familiar with events in its five bloody predecessors.
Whereas 2022 requel Scream was content if viewers had only ever seen the 1996 original with the same name, follow-up Scream VI continues to embrace its legacy themes, name dropping and bringing back characters from across the 27-year-old horror franchise’s history. There is no access for new, curious viewers.
Second, the hype is real. Scream VI is better than last year’s release, revitalising proceedings with a smart location shift from a quiet (and clearly affluent) California town to bustling, grimy New York City. It also, smartly, continues to explore the characters and relationships introduced in the last instalment, which heightens the audience’s emotional investment in their survival.
In Scream VI, the “core four” survivors of the most recent Ghostface killings – sisters Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega), and twins Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding) – have moved to the East Coast for a fresh start. Tara and the twins are there to distract themselves from their past trauma by embracing college life, while Sam’s situation is far less positive. Having been outed as a previous killer’s daughter, Sam is trying to keep an eye on her sister, and keep a low profile herself as she deals with complicated emotions stemming from past revelations and actions. What’s worse is that she’s been scapegoated for the previous year’s Woodsboro slaughter via a vicious social media campaign.
Of course, you can’t avoid a Ghostface for long in this film series. When a new masked killer – evidently a fan of the previous murderers – starts a fresh spree of stabbings, and clumsily frames Sam, it’s clear nobody in the friends’ inner circle can be trusted. Trying to identify the killer on the law enforcement side are Dermot Mulroney’s police detective, and franchise returnee Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) who went on from Scream 4 to become a spunky FBI officer. Finally there’s fellow legacy survivor, investigative journalist Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) to throw some feisty spirit and smarts into the mix. Notably, Scream VI is the first series entry in which former main character Sidney Prescott does not appear, since actress Neve Campbell disagreed with her appearance fee offer.
Age restricted 18 for violence in South Africa, this really is the most graphic of the Scream movies, teetering on the brink of torture porn at times as the camera lingers on knives repeatedly piercing abdomens, and characters pouring blood from their mouths as they die in anguish. Scream VI flirts briefly with mixing up Ghostface’s modus operandi, but ultimately it’s all about the franchise’s established tradition of stabby weapons (which have a plot-dependent fatality rate).
The new batch of murders are often distasteful instead of fun, but there’s no denying that Scream VI has ramped up the intensity and energy of the attacks. It’s edge-of-your-seat stuff, as characters fight for their lives in cramped apartments, overstocked bodegas, and, in the best scene of the movie, a subway carriage filled with Halloween revellers dressed as horror movie icons past and present. Scream VI slashes through the notion that there’s safety in public spaces full of people. When the chips are down, you can only rely on yourself. Nobody will help you. There’s that Gen Z cynicism again.
The biggest problem with Scream VI is that it continues to lean heavily on Sam’s serial killer heritage as a plot driver. It was unconvincing in the 2022 Scream and it’s even worse this time around. Not helping matters is that Barrera is the weakest of the performers by far, inexpressive and stiff. It’s especially notable when compared with the naturally emotive and likeable Savoy Brown and Ortega – with the latter getting to do much more in her second Scream appearance than just shriek, and fumble for her inhaler.
As in the previous instalment, Scream VI gives its main characters more quiet moments and emotional breathing room, but the trade-off is a kind of disjointedness – on the screen and in audience response. You can’t relish an overblown horror movie murder when you care about the characters. Netflix’s Fear Street, with its similar mix of retro slasher murders and modern filmmaking sensibilities, had the same issue. It’s also wholly implausible when a hero witnesses a loved one die horribly, and is back to dishing out wink-wink “how to survive a modern slasher” advice in the next scene.
Still, if you’re willing to overlook these jarring moments, Scream VI delivers the thrilling, gory goods, while honouring its other franchise staples of humour, stupid character behaviour and mystery (which in this case is easier to solve than usual). Fans should love it. DM/ML
This story was first published on Pfangirl.com
Scream VI is available in South Africa in cinemas from 10 March.