After an 11-year wait between Screams 4 and 5, the sixth instalment in the now-venerable but still often irreverent horror franchise has arrived a brisk 14 months after its predecessor, eager to carry on this new sequel/re-quel story as swiftly as possible. It’s a tight turnaround for a film that does, sadly, end up feeling like it needed a bit more time to develop, with some great scenes and ideas that don’t quite coalesce into a fully satisfying whole.
We cold open with the obligatory death of a blonde woman on a phone call, in this case Samara Weaving as a film studies professor in a sequence that feels a bit overfamiliar and straightforward at first but slowly reveals its hand as something much grander and more grisly. It’s indicative of the film as a whole – Scream 6 pushes the scale and stakes higher than 5, massively helped in this effort by the move away from the franchise’s small home town of Woodsboro.
Like many of the great slashers before them, Ghostface has moved to New York, and the bustling streets, smoky back alleys, and claustrophobic metro system make for a fun murderer’s playground. The new Ghostface is here following sisters Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega), who not only survived the previous killers’ attempts on their lives but managed to kill that duo of Ghostfaces. As ever, the characters are left to solve the mystery of who’s behind the mask and what their motivation might be, all while avoiding being gruesomely stabbed to death.
It’s a solid formula that has served this franchise well, and often continues to do so here, though the interpersonal stuff between the gory set-pieces is weaker than it was last time out. On top of that, the – admittedly few – attempts to retain the meta angle that has so defined this series feel much more forced here, James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick’s script not finding the balance of humour and terror. At just over two hours, Scream 6 has quite a few moments of slowing down, and takes a bit too long to get back into gear each time.
Luckily, once returning directing duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are able to get to the set-pieces, things pick up hugely. This is a more athletic, brutal, and nasty Ghostface, less concerned with the franchise’s ‘rules’ than previous killers – even picking up a shotgun during a particularly tense showdown in a bodega. The kills are bloody and visceral and, even if a few of the characters sometimes shrug off what should be fatal wounds with surprising ease, the chases are a lot of fun.
Barrera and, particularly, Ortega make for a strong lead duo, easily holding their own against franchise stalwarts like Courteney Cox as reporter Gale Weathers and Hayden Panettiere as final-girl-turned-FBI-agent Kirby Reed. Outside of Dermot Mulroney as a grieving cop who joins Sam and Tara’s crusade against Ghostface, though, the new supporting cast are pretty forgettable, but it is fun that one of them is played by Jack Champion, aka Way of Water’s Spider – his age here a remarkable reminder of just how long ago Avatar 2 was actually filmed.
Not quite as propulsive or as tightly held together as its immediate predecessor, Scream 6 is still an enjoyable entry into the overstuffed but reliable slasher genre. The way it moves the series further away from its Wes Craven meta-comedy roots and more into just earnest horror territory might prove divisive for long-time fans, but the case it makes for the change is not an entirely unconvincing one.