“Scream VI” – There are rules here? Oh no. There are no rules here.
Prior to watching Scream VI, my family and our neighbors dedicated the weekend to a Scream marathon, dubbed “Scream Saturday.” We managed to watch the first four movies on Saturday and finished the fifth on Sunday. I wouldn’t recommend anyone else to do this. You’re welcome. The group also asked me to rank all five before we started, to which I responded, “start with the original Scream and draw a line that slopes down.” After the marathon, I revised that line with an upward tick for the fifth movie, but not a big tick. I reread my review of the fifth film and I stand by what I said. In short, it was a remake of the original.
(Side note: The most notable thing I remember about the fifth movie is that we critics weren’t allowed to refer to it as Scream 5, so I called it Scream not-Five throughout my review. In honor of that, I’m going to refer to Scream VI as Scream definitely-VI for the rest of this review.) (Ed. Note – No, you’re not.)
Scream definitely-VI (Ed. Note – Really?) is more of the same – zero inspiration or creativity in the form of a near carbon copy of Scream 2 while fanatically adhering to the Scream formula. If I wanted to be really cheeky, I could do the same with my Scream not-Five review. It’s uncanny how much of what I wrote about Scream not-Five applies to Scream definitely-VI (Ed. Note – Stop it.). All I’d need to do is change a few actors’ names, note the film takes place in New York City, and mention that the killer’s motivation is revenge just like in Scream 2. I won’t because then I’d be as boring and predictable as Scream definitely-VI (Ed. Note – This is your last warning).
The biggest red flag for me came before the film even started. As I sat waiting for the proverbial curtain to rise, the film’s poster was displayed on the screen. Immediately, I spotted Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) and Chad (Mason Gooding) prominently featured, both of whom died in movies four and five, respectively. It is never a good sign when a franchise starts taking cues from soap operas, leaning into the screenwriting trope that if we don’t see them die, they didn’t die. Kirby even remarks that she was technically dead for four minutes. Just…no. It was hard enough to believe Tara (Jenna Ortega) survived her skewering in Scream not-Five, but Kirby was very, very dead. The reason this is a problem is it removes the only stakes that matter in a slasher flick – lives. If we don’t believe the characters will actually die, all of the suspense in the film goes away.
The truly disappointing thing is there are moments in the film proving the filmmakers could make a better movie if they wanted to. The best example is a scene on a crowded subway train. The movie takes place over Halloween and the train is filled with people in costume, several of whom are dressed as Ghostface. The use of flickering lights and darkened, obscured views of various Ghost faced passengers creates one of the most suspenseful scenes of the entire franchise. Contrast that with a scene where a character is somehow able to attempt crawling across a ladder between two adjacent buildings despite having been sliced open from navel to sternum. Or another scene where Kirby and Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) compare their horror movie fandom by making the same comments simultaneously. Clearly, that subway scene is a unicorn in a herd of screaming donkeys.
Speaking of screaming donkeys, it’s far past time for the franchise to ditch the whole meta, we-know-we’re-in-a-horror-movie-wink-wink theme. Scream not-Five jumped the shark with its inane requel nonsense, Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) shout-lecturing its definition and rules at both the cast and audience. Having survived the requel, Mindy doubles down, stopping the new movie dead in its tracks to pedantically announce they are in a franchise, yell at everyone why they are a suspect, and spell out rules (for franchises now) that are redundant, exaggerated, and not even adhered to in some cases. I won’t spoil for you which rules get ignored, but the movie proves that its rules are really more like guidelines. It’s a shame characters don’t really die anymore because Mindy’s incessant monologuing more than earned her a gruesome death.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the film is the abandonment of all subtlety. In the original Scream, the rules are given to us in an organic way that feels natural, carrying on through films two and three fairly well, though clearly a bit forced in film three. Films five and six don’t even attempt to make it feel natural, instead beating us over the head with it purely because formula and nostalgia demand it. Then there are the killers, who used to be somewhat sneaky and devious, but are now just bluntly and loudly attacking whenever and wherever. In one scene, Ghostface attacks Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara with a shotgun in a convenience store filled with customers. In another scene, Ghostface repeatedly slams its body against a barricaded door, ostensibly alerting the entire apartment building, if not the entire block, that something is amiss (not to mention the group of victims screaming their way through the entire ordeal).
Also, not subtle? The killings. Mindy’s rules include ever more gruesome deaths (“a beheading?” one person asks), which really means focusing on the stabbings longer and splashing more blood around. For everyone who loves Fast and Furious movies for car stunts, Scream fans’ bloodlust will be satisfied through the stabbings and killings. I wouldn’t say they are particularly more inventive than previous Scream movie stabbings and killings (hard to top the slow-motion neck stabbing of Wes or face stabbing of Richie in Scream not-Five), but they are plentiful, wet, and brutal. Just don’t expect any slow ramp up to them, as Ghostface is mostly barreling its way through the film.
Like Fast and Furious, the Scream franchise shows no signs of stopping and every sign of becoming more of a caricature of itself with each subsequent entry. And I get it. At movie six in a franchise, nobody is trying to be clever anymore. If audiences keep showing up for the exact same serving, why risk changing anything? Just keep plopping the same characters and formula into the same mold, sprinkle in a few new characters, simmer on low for two hours, and voila! Profit. As for the franchise rankings, I’d put Scream definitely-VI at (Ed. Note – And you’re done now.).
Rating: Ask for eleven dollars back. Those are the guidelines.