Scream VI (2023)

I think it goes without saying that most franchises, especially in the genre of horror, tend to get progressively more braindead as time goes on and by the time you see a number six or seven to the right of the title, chances are that originality had long been defenestrated in favour of keeping the series alive at all cost. However, an oft-interesting by-product of this process is that these further-down-the-spiral instalments in your favourite slasher franchises may occasionally develop their own personalities on the back of being wacky, which may germinate their eventual cult appeal. After all, even though Jason Takes Manhattan, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation could never be accused of even trying to take themselves seriously, let alone of attempting to evolve the series in any meaningful direction, fans will always find ways to enjoy them. As long as they are fun to watch, that is. 

This is by far the most pertinent question anyone venturing into cinemas to see Scream VI (or ScreaIVI, if you wish to be pedantic and adhere to the stylization found on the poster) should ask themselves ahead of watching the film. And in fact, this may also have been the most important question weighing on the creative team of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett who directed it, as well as James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick who came back to write it after successfully reviving the series with last year’s Scream 5 (aka Scream, or – again – 5cream if you wish to be pedantic about it).  

The filmmakers managed to successfully revive the series after it had laid dormant for a decade following Wes Craven’s death. They achieved this by way of using The Force Awakens methodology of staging a de facto soft remake of the 1995 original, introducing a new cast of characters, centering the narrative around a newcomer Sam (Melissa Barrera), a parallel archetype to Rey with her tormented past, and by giving a few legacy characters a Han Solo-esque send-off, all with a suitable and series-appropriate self-awareness and meta-tongue-in-cheek commentary on how everything happening in the movie is a movie and why the movie which is a movie is a new movie and what kind of a movie it is. Suffice it to say that Scream 5 successfully and entertainingly pandered to any nostalgia you might have had for the franchise, refreshed its crucial aspects and prepped it for further treatment without ever subverting any fan expectations. Granted, it was far from original, but just like The Force Awakens rode to the pinnacles of international box office on the back of fan attachment to George Lucas’ seminal blockbuster, Scream 5 thrived on preserving the spirit of Wes Craven’s work and giving genre hounds that rare opportunity to have jolly good fun while watching a horror movie that is as completely aware of itself, as it is serious about remaining in character.  

So, how do you follow this up exactly? Do you proceed with the Star Wars analogy and stage The Last Jedi revolution which will upend any fan expectations and attempt to carve out some kind of personality for this newly resurrected series, as though it was completely sequestered from everything that came before it? Perhaps it would be an interesting direction to pursue, but the filmmakers chose differently. They accurately pinpointed what gave the series its unique personality in the past and decided to evolve it accordingly. Therefore, having observed that the Scream series is a horror franchise that is distinctly aware of its own existence as a series, they pushed this new film in a direction where a horror franchise would typically go by the time the number by its title gets closer to double digits – in a direction of total ridiculousness on the back of wholesale familiarity underpinned by complete abandonment of any narrative logic or coherence.  

Now, this is a good time to extend an olive branch and simply assume that the movie is doing what it’s doing willingly and consciously, to ensure that a requisite enjoyment can be derived from watching what rapidly unfolds on the screen. That’s because it’s nearly impossible to rationally explain and logically position why the characters we follow are where they are and why what happens, happens. What we see is what we get.  

The movie greets us with a now traditional cold-open in media res scene involving a disposable character (played by Samara Weaving whose Margot Robbie-adjacent energy viewers might remember from the directors’ other movie Ready or Not), who also happens to be a film professor, violently dispatched by a new incarnation of the Ghostface killer… who immediately removes his mask and therefore subverts one canonical element of the franchise – the whodunnit. We follow him home and then realize he is not the real-real Ghostface, but a copycat about to be taken out by the real-real Ghostface, or as the series lore would like you to expect, one of the multiple killers working in tandem.  

Hard cut. And we are back with the surviving characters from the previous film. Sam (Barrera), Tara (Jenna Ortega), Chad (Mason Gooding) and Mindy (Jasmin Savoy-Brown) all live in New York. Together. For some reason. Tara, Chad and Mindy are all in college while Sam… well, she’s just there. Flanked by an entourage of side characters who are here to factor in the whodunnit mystery which is in fact a familiar element the filmmakers decided not to dispose of, the troupe is about to face off against the new and improved Ghostface, who seems to be aware he’s not only in a movie but in a franchise propped up by progressively accumulating lore. And because this is after all a legacy series, some more familiar faces are about to emerge in the most opportune places, one of whom you may remember from one of the more recent instalments, and one without whom a Scream movie would not be a Scream movie. Naturally, in continuation of the now established emotional underpinning of Sam’s character and in playful symmetry with some of the previous sequels, the characters end up retracing a few steps, regurgitating a few thematic nodes from before and allow the past to come and bite them on their keisters.

I guess what I am trying to articulate by awkwardly stumbling through a paragraph’s worth of synopsis while actively trying not to divulge too much, is that Scream VI is frankly preposterous, though as I understand it or at least believe it is the case based on nothing more than a combination of logical conjecture and cross-your-fingers assumptions, it is for all I care by design. The movie knows what it is – a sixth instalment in a series dating back to the 90s, which was already making sentient observations about its own existence within a genre. Therefore, the filmmakers assumed the natural direction for the movie to go is to amp the spectacle, remove common sense and do so with enough self-assured panache to carry the viewer away either into semi-permanent suspension of disbelief, or to its polar opposite – perpetual disbelief. Either way, the movie ends up a satisfying romp because even if it doesn’t succeed on its own terms, it is still fun enough to admire. Kind of like a flaming fireworks factory.  

Consequently, I can only advise you to turn down your cerebral engineering and allow your lizard brain to take over for the duration of the movie because Scream VI may just be too dumb to try and take seriously. I seriously don’t believe you could ever watch it the way the 1974 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Halloween can be watched. It’s not a movie with any serious aspirations. It’s a movie-movie and – to be more exact – it’s a movie-movie that follows five other movies and squarely tries to have fun of the most visceral kind. If you’re after kills, gore, one-liners, the curse of the talkative villain, more kills, stupid kills, miraculous recoveries, logical dead ends, loose threads and even more loose threads, meta-quips that make The Big Bang Theory look positively cerebral, and some lore appreciation, then Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett have got your back. Scream VI is just the kind of entertainment you might need – simple, stupid and satisfying. The rest need not apply. 

However, it must be said that the satisfaction derived from watching this movie will most likely be rather short-lived, just like satiation obtained from junk food is also measured in minutes. This movie does not have enough gravitas to become the Halloween III of this series. In fact, it isn’t even trying to become one. Unlike Halloween Ends which made a serious attempt (albeit torn to shreds by in-house drama) at reinventing itself at all cost, Scream VI has much more in common with later additions to the Friday The 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, in that a lot of the fun of watching them comes from observing how nothing about them makes logical sense, how braindead the characterizations are and how everything somehow just gels to become a satisfying experience, even if you know the whole time it’s not good for you.  

This movie is a big bag of crisps – a salty snack that you don’t need to and probably shouldn’t eat, but you still do. And even if you will feel bloated and regretful after downing it in one sitting, it will have felt nice while you were doing it.  


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