Monday, March 20, 2023

Ghostface Takes Stabhattan: Scream VI (2023) Review

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett

Notable Cast: Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Courteney Cox, Hayden Panettiere, Dermot Mulroney, Liana Liberato, Jack Champion, Devyn Nekoda, Josh Segarra, Samara Weaving


The meta-commentary that has always been provided within the Scream franchise found new life with Scream 2022 when it was released… let me check my notes, uh, yep, last year. The attack on the “requel” - or which can also be labeled as the “legacy sequel” - was smart in playing on the freshly minted tropes, particularly for slashers, and suddenly this horror franchise had legs and momentum under it once again. In the rather insane way that the Scream films have evolved, it was the next step to bring it to the current state of horror. 


Although Scream VI tries out a few “new” ideas by taking the sequel and planting it in Montreal New York and attacking modern horror franchise continuations, it’s one that mostly sticks to its knives when it comes to delivering a Scream sequel. Although it hardly reaches the cleverness or seemingly invested writing of the fifth entry, it does happen to deliver quite a bit of slasher entertainment as it ramps up the brutality and cutting slasher chase sequences that maximize its Montreal New York setting. 


Scream VI, which abandons the requel titling joke of its predecessor for a more straightforward title, has a new angle to cozy up with in its satirical notions. The franchise sequel. Granted, the entire concept, which is thoroughly explained to the audience by Jasmin Savoy Brown’s ultra-horror movie nerd character Mindy, is not nearly as provocative or clear in its baseline rules as previous entries (which stem mostly down to “THERE ARE NO RULES, YOU ASSHOLES!”) it’s just biting enough to warrant threading for the series. Even if that logic has been applied to most of the films prior. One can only make the claim that the final girl is now game for the slashin’ and see her survive so many times before it becomes a false promise. 


So yes, before we get too far, this review will have mild spoilers for previous Scream entries. I’m sorry, that’s just how this works when it comes to films where there’s a whodunnit and a significant body count for its ensemble. Sorry, not sorry. 


While the promise of the “franchise sequel” seems intriguing enough, it’s not the big bait that is going to have fans excited for this entry. That is the Montreal New York setting. To make this very apparent that the directors and writers understand that this is not unique, there’s a character in the opening sequence that just so happens to be watching Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. Yes, don’t forget. Everyone in these films loves horror movies. It’s a nice nod though. 


And while Scream VI owes a ton of its inspirations more to recreating moments and parallels to its own franchise in Scream 2, the Montreal New York of it all is a very nice change of pace. Not that the film actually looks like it was filmed in Montreal New York (I’m also not sorry for the strikethrough joke in this review that will not stop) but so many of its key sequences are built around movie Montreal New York ideas that do really spike some great moments of tension. While many viewers will definitely white knuckle their way through the ladder-in-between-windows escape sequence in the second act, it’s the subway sequence that was featured in the first trailer that is the true standout of the film. The flickering lights, the Halloween-time setting where everyone is in horror costumes, and the mounting tension of these kills being done in public spaces is the highlight of the film. Partner that with the brutality of the Ghostface killer(s?) in the film, where 17 stabs might as well equal 1 stab or shotgun blasts tear open entire people, the kill sequences of the film definitely makes this one a worthy contender for some of the best moments in a Scream film. 


However, as much as Scream VI wants to be the next evolution of this series, so much of its plotting and characters are seemingly muddled in the process. The film never quite figures out how it wants to handle Sam Carpenter’s is she or isn’t she a serial killer in the making subplot and its playfulness with its “Core Four” ensemble feels like a desperate cling for building the dynamic of the original run’s thrilling three. At least they give Jenna Ortega a lot more to do this time around. 


The performances are all decent once again, but the familial dynamics feel far more forced in the script this time around and it does undercut some of its dramatic beats. Even bringing back Hayden Panettiere as the fan-favorite Kirby from Scream 4 feels a bit more forced than it should have. They play it off with some funny jokes and she gets a few good key moments, but it does feel more like the random cameos from other entries than something naturalistically written in. 


As for the finale, that seems to have drawn some divisive reactions amongst fans of the series online, and, in general, I get why. Not that I will spoil anything here, but if this film was meant to recreate Scream 2 in many ways - it also tends to make some massive leaps to reveal the killers and their motivations for this one. Nothing will be quite as much of a leap as the outlandish reveal of the killer in Scream 3 or the silliness of “I want to prove to people that horror movies actually do make killers” in Scream 2, but this one does require a few mental gymnastics to get there. Fortunately, the setting of a Ghostface museum in a dilapidated theater and some fantastic visual pops from directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett make the ending at least entertaining even when it’s a tad baffling. 


All in all, Scream VI is a solid entry into the series, not reaching some of the effective heights of other sequels, but the patchy script does feel rushed at times and it never finds the best balance and themes for its characters to navigate as it runs the course of its plot. It manages to entertain fairly well, pile on some great Montreal New York (last one I swear) sequences, and give us all of the staples of a Scream movie. 


I’m still disappointed they didn’t call it Ghostface Takes Stabhattan, but I digress. 


Written By Matt Malpica Reifschneider

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