Last year’s “Scream” (the fifth film in the popular series) brought a jolt of excitement to the near-flatlined slasher genre and made the series fun again. “Scream VI” kicks the brutality into high gear and places its characters into a new setting, finding them all conveniently relocated to New York City. Ghostface is loose on the mean city streets, finding the killer in new surroundings in which to craft his murderous set pieces.
Does it all work? Yes and no.
Tara (modern day “Scream Queen” Jenna Ortega) attends a fictional NYC college while older sister Samantha (Melissa Barrera) keeps a close watch on her comings and goings. Annoying brother and sister Mindy and Chad (Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding, respectively) go to the same college as Tara, and everyone still hangs out together, dealing with the traumatic events of the previous film.
Brown and Gooding are probably good actors, but their insipid dialogue makes it hard to tell.
Hayden Panettiere returns as Kirby Reed, now a tough-talking FBI agent with a leather jacket and a gun. The actress isn’t believable for one second and her character’s inclusion into the story seemed desperate and highly unnecessary.
Lest we forget, Courtney Cox returns as Gayle Weathers. The character is written the same as she was through the entire series and Cox plays her accordingly. If you saw the other films, you know what you will get from Miss Weathers. Nothing new to see here.
Beyond the returning cast members from several “Scream” films, new characters (suspects) abound.
Samantha is having a secret affair with her neighbor, Danny (Josh Segarra) and shares an apartment with flighty roommate Quinn (Liana Liberato).
Danny is only there for the audience to wonder if he is the killer. Samantha and Danny generate zero heat nor do the two actors have any visible screen chemistry. Liberato does well enough as Quinn, representing the slasher movie cliché of the horny friend/roomie, but I wouldn’t carve her name on any acting awards just yet.
Enter NYPD Detective Bailey (a completely lost Dermot Mulroney) who investigates the murders of two film students found with Ghostface masks next to their bodies. Of course, his interest and suspicion focus on Tara and Samantha.
As far as a screenplay for a “Scream” film is concerned, we have seen worse. For this reviewer, the only truly good entries in the series were Wes Craven’s original and last year’s series recharge.
For “Scream VI”, James Vanderbilt and Gary Busick’s screenplay is constantly in danger of spinning its creative wheels.
While in the original films, writer Kevin Williamson hammered his audience with (mostly clever) references to horror films of the past, Vanderbilt and Busick drop an atom bomb of eye-rolling dialogue full of ridiculous movie references that fall flat. Guess what? There are even more new rules to survive, each one based on the ever-changing horror genre, and we hear about them over and over. As written, it seems that a few of the characters are having too much fun figuring out the rules while knowing they could be killed at any moment.
The screenwriters even try their hand at examining the effects of trauma on survivors of violence, only to throw it away too quickly in favor of getting to “the good stuff”.
Does moving the action to The Big Apple work? With Canada filling in for tax purposes, I can only say that it works occasionally, even though the filmmakers fail to show any second unit shots of the real city.
There is a particularly good sequence on the subway where directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett find an effective tension. Surrounded by riders in Halloween masks (the film is set during the holiday), the characters must discern if they are in danger. People in horror villain costumes flood the car, with more than one decked out as Ghostface. The filmmakers use some fun audience manipulation to make this scene pop. It stands as the most creative and memorable sequence in the entire picture.
The directors are in complete control of their kill scenes. The blood and guts flow while the sound effects squish, as many of the film’s murder moments are creatively designed and well-executed. After all, horror films (especially slashers) should be a thrill ride. It is in the Ghostface attacks where the film finds an entertaining balance of fun, gore, and excitement. Ghostface(s?) is vicious and bloodthirsty as ever, and the savagery of the killings is on high. To quote another film from a different genre, “This one goes to 11.”
Without a doubt, audiences are there for the slash-a-thon, but be warned, everything in between is rather flatline. Everything explored with the cast of characters from the last entry has been played out. Every horror film has been referenced. This film has nothing new to say about horror movies past or present, crazy fanboy culture, or anything else. Not that audiences are searching for depth in their slasher pictures, but these films are starting to make the screenplays for the “Friday the 13th” films look like David Mamet.
As for the big reveal? If audiences cannot figure it out in the first hour, they have never seen a “Scream” film.
If you are 18 or younger, this will be one of the best Horror films you have ever seen. If you are over 40 (and have a fondness for the slasher genre, as I do) you may be able to forgive it’s predictability, ridiculous script, and bad acting. Perhaps you could focus on some good gore and cleverly staged horror movie brutality.
I am somewhere in the middle.
“Scream VI” is somewhat fun, but…
Written by James Vanderbilt & Gary Busick
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
Starring Jenna Ortega, Melissa Barrera, Courtney Cox, Dermot Mulroney, Hayden Panettiere
R, 122 Minutes, Paramount Pictures/Project X Entertainment