Two (Dismembered) Thumbs Up
So they’re making another Scream movie, huh?
Yes, we’re talking about Scream VI.
Trust me, it’s good!
Sure, I was hoping for yet another gory whodunit featuring red herrings, cackling psychopaths, and scads of meta-commentary about the state of horror today.
…you say that like it’s a bad thing.
Ugh. Why can’t Hollywood make something original?
You mean like all those movies that were released theatrically that you didn’t see because “theaters are annoying?” Or all those movies that dropped on streaming that you didn’t watch because you were re-watching The Office for the third time?
…fair point. What’s this Scream VI thing all about?
You might remember that the preposterously unlucky town of Woodsboro was repeatedly plagued by a string of ghastly murders. Each time, a knucklehead or pair of knuckleheads would dress up in a cheap Halloween costume & carve the dickens out of their victims. In fact, the first, fourth, fifth, and (I think?) the second installment all took place in Woodsboro.
Woodsboro’s crime rate must be crazy high. Why don’t the protagonists peace out of there?
In fact, they do! This film takes place in New York City. The Carpenter sisters Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega) have come to the Big Apple to start fresh. They’re joined by the Meeks-Martin twins Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding). After the murderthon they just barely survived, their plan is to go to college and put all that Ghostface business behind them.
That’s mostly their plan, anyway. As we learned in Scream or Scream V, Sam is the daughter of Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich), the ringleader of the first series of killings. She’s struggling. She knows she’s descended from a psychopath, and last time around, one of the psychopaths who went after her and her people was her boyfriend Ritchie (Jack Quaid). It’s an understatement to say that Sam has trust issues. Her priority now is to keep her sister Tara safe, no matter what.
That’s going to be tricky as some wackadoo in a Ghostface costume is stalking the streets of New York. Everyone is a suspect, including our Core Four, intrepid/exploitative journalist Gale Weathers, investigating cop Detective Bailey (Dermot Mulroney), and former Woodsboro attack survivor and current FBI agent Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere). Sam and her crew will have to solve the mystery while avoiding being carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey.
That definitely sounds like an entry to a long-running franchise. However, your time on Earth is limited. Soon you will pass away, leaving behind only dust. Why spend your valuable time writing about this?
Easy, the Scream franchise has done something remarkable. Like the MCU, it has a host of characters and storylines that wind their way through multiple films. Like Rian Johnson’s best works, it’s a whodunit where audiences are kept guessing as to the identities of the perpetrators. Like Kevin Smith’s better films, it has a vast knowledge of cinematic history and an impish sense of humor as it comments on and subverts hoary old horror tropes. The franchise did all of that at the same time, which is a kind of blood-soaked miracle.
Part of that comes from the directing team known as Radio Silence, also known as Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin. At no point do they disrespect the Scream legacy created by horror legend Wes Craven. Instead, Radio Silence builds upon it. This film, as well as the previous entry, feels like a natural piece of the franchise. Having said that, there are outstanding set pieces here, gallons of gore, and equally skilled moments of suspense and comedy. So much so that I think Radio Silence may have done a better job overall of filmmaking than Craven, with the exception of the first film.
I see you’ve taken your hyperbole pills.
There’s more hyperbole to come! For the most part, the screenplay by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick works like gangbusters. As in prior installments, the characters seize upon any opportunity to lovingly clown on well-known horror tropes. Specifically, I’ll point to highly amusing monologues delivered by Mindy Meeks-Martin about the rules of horror and the likelihood of certain suspects. Busick and Vanderbilt also do excellent character work. Despite being quip machines, the majority of the characters are distinctive, interesting, and likable. Vanderbilt and Busick have gone to serious lengths to both tease out a mystery and make us care about who’s involved.
“For the most part,” huh? What’s the problem?
Until the third act kicks in, the screenplay operates like a finely-tuned machine. The scares are scary, the comedy is funny, the pacing works, and there’s a great deal of energy pushing everything. However, once we learn why the murders are taking place and who’s behind them, there’s a bit of a fizzle. I remember thinking about the reveal, “Oh, okay, that’s what we’re doing? I guess that’s fine.” I wish I’d thought, “Holy hell, that’s brilliant.”
Next you’re going to tell me the cast does Academy Award-worthy work?
Nah. They’re solid, though, and there are a couple of movie-star making turns. The first is Melissa Barrera as Sam. We’ve seen the horror trope of the survivor grappling with the effects of PTSD. Barrera does that also while reckoning with her past as the daughter of a killer, being an overprotective big sister (Can you blame her?), and entering into a secret romance with her neighbor Danny (Josh Segarra). Barrera juggles all of those layers smoothly and creates a three-dimensional performance. The second is the flashier and funnier role of Mindy, played by Jasmin Savoy Brown. This series needs someone to act as a Greek chorus, commenting on the action while experiencing it. Brown does that with exquisite comic timing.
Hold up. Didn’t this franchise make Neve Campbell’s career? When does she show up?
Ah…she doesn’t. During salary negotiations, Paramount Pictures lowballed her. I’d bet any amount of money you’d care to name that a male actor in a long-running franchise wouldn’t have been offered such a dinky amount of money. Campbell stuck with her principles and walked. Good for her.
I suppose you’re going to wrap this review up with some kind of pithy pull-quote for the blu-ray. “You’ll have a stabbity good time at the movies!” or some nonsense like that.
“Stabbity good time?” What’s that supposed to mean?
You’re the writer, my dude. Isn’t it your job to come up with an evocative turn of phrase?
Okay, fine. Scream VI proves there’s plenty of bloody life left in this franchise. It’s got clever writing, creative filmmaking, and a cast that’s game for anything.
Though you will have a stabbity good time at the movies.
God, you’re disappointing.