Historically, the sixth film in a horror franchise has precedent to either be an unmitigated disaster or a shockingly revitalizing bloodbath. Statistically, things do seem to air on the side of disaster, with incoherent nonsense like The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) being released (and later re-released) in a state so unwatchable that the only thing left to do was reboot into an entirely new timeline. Sixth films such as Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002), Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), and Leatherface (2017), stand alongside Halloween in being abhorrently terrible entries in their respective franchises, but occasionally something breaks through franchise flagellation and shines as a stellar entry, even years or decades on. Most notably, Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) is a stunning piece of gruesome slasher glee, a bloody delight that proved Jason still had legs as an icon in the horror pantheon. Alien: Covenant (2019) grabbed every facet of its own franchise by the throat and shredded it all to pieces in the angriest and bloodiest entry to date, a controversial sixth but nonetheless one that proves there’s still plenty of room for reinvention no matter how far we’ve come from our starting point.
Scream VI makes a deft attempt to reinvent itself in its opening, subverting the necessary expectations by clearly outlining the person who has chosen to embody the Ghostface persona and go on a bloody spree across New York City. It feels lithe and fun, with horror film bro Jason (Tony Revolori) strutting around after his first kill in a Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) tee and downing shots while his idol hacks people to pieces in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) on the television. Here is potential, here is the opportunity to kill the past (since we’ve collectively already spent so much time talking about Rian Johnson), to break away from the formula and reimagine Scream, to call into giallo influence and go full bore with the madness. Tragically, we aren’t done subverting – instead, the franchise returns to kill this vision and reinstate the status quo. From title-card on, it’s everything you’ve come to expect from Scream, just dressed up as New York for Halloween.
Though disappointing, this outcome is mostly effective regardless, a gruesome and gory slasher that lets Ghostface feel refreshingly new while the brutality escalates and blood spills across the streets. Sam and Tara Carpenter (Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega) return as the run-down survivors of the 2022 Woodsboro massacre, flanked by Mindy and Chad Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding) as they attempt to move on from their trauma amidst an ever-growing threat vying to plunge them all back towards the tip of the knife. As Ghostface rips through Manhattan it becomes clear the game is off somehow, this new brand of sadistic rage featuring shattered skulls and spilled guts, but even if it can’t succeed at being a meta masterpiece there would seemingly be no harm in just being a damn good slasher.
Scream VI desperately, achingly, wants to be more than just a damn good slasher. Like its predecessor, it has little idea of how to process that. The film is more than capable of imitating the ghost of Randy Meeks but instead of poking fun at the smarmy film know-it-all, it embodies and embraces it, flatly making observations about various tropes and outlining the state of horror discourse without ever deconstructing or contextualizing in a way that leverages our expectations. There’s no applicable weight to any of it because it all feels meaningless, just notions of more significant ideas floating through the river of blood. It tells you exactly what to expect so it can invert it later as if it’s pulled a clever ruse on you but instead feels like a pointless misdirection, a deterministic and bland outcome whose central conceit seems to be that you won’t expect it to be exactly what it advertises itself as, but leaving that start and end point without any further examination turns it into exactly the thing it positions itself to be parodying.
There’s so much here that works incredibly well, enough that it’s easy to always look forward to more Scream even when it keeps letting you down. Barrera and Ortega are a force to be reckoned with, a powerful duo that put brilliant new protagonists at the center of this rebooted continuity as the legacy characters are slowly but surely phased out, and the return of Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) is a welcome bonus. Fundamentally, the slasher formula still works even if you’re trapped in a franchise built to deconstruct it, and what’s here rightfully lets go of whatever restraints held it back before and goes all out every moment it possibly can. The problem is that knowing you’re in a franchise sequel isn’t enough to overcome the knife in your chest (probably), and we’re losing blood fast. In the world of sixes, Scream VI can’t quite shock the series into an entirely new landscape, but it’s also not sending us on a downward spiral into direct-to-video trash. Maybe we shouldn’t have listened to the lunatic rantings of Stu Macher. Let’s face it. You don’t always need a sequel.