“Someone is out to make a sequel to the requel,” squawks Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) in Scream VI — that obligatory moment when this meta-slasher franchise underlines the rules of the game.
In 2022’s Scream, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett did a pretty good job of resurrecting Wes Craven’s moribund horror series, updating it with a new cast and bringing back some legacy characters as a new Ghostface killer stalked the quaint town of Woodsboro.
Now these canny co-directors are back, this time moving the action out of Woodsboro and into the big, bad city. After the events of a year ago, sisters Samantha (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega) are trying to work their way through the trauma. Sam’s in therapy, while Tara’s getting tired of her sibling Tasering the latest creep she tries to hook up with at parties. It doesn’t help that internet-fuelled conspiracy theories earmark Sam as a murderess.
The traditional blood-curdling Scream opening is pulled off with aplomb here: a professor specialising in 20th-century slasher films (Samara Weaving, star of the directors’ 2019 breakthrough horror Ready or Not) meets a grisly end at the hands of one of her students. Except that there’s a sting in the tail for this upstart, who’s obsessed by the Stab franchise — the films-within-the-film that were made after the original Woodsboro killings.
With this death opening up a whole can of grisly, mutilated worms, Sam and Tara are soon being stalked by Ghostface, all over Halloween weekend. The best scene comes at their apartment when the killer makes it inside and they try to escape via a horizontally positioned ladder to an adjacent apartment, high above an alleyway. The tension drips from this scene like blood from a knife, especially when the killer puts down his weapon and simply starts to shake the ladder.
Scroll through the gallery below for more images from Scream VI
Throughout the film, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett certainly prove they know how to stage an effective murder. One stabbing on the New York subway sees a carriage full of fancy-dress horror characters — including Pinhead from Hellraiser, Michael Myers from Halloween and several dressed in Ghostface costumes. Who is the real killer? Well, that will take some working out, as various decoys get on and off the train.
As for the in-jokes, this focuses is on legacy characters — “cannon fodder at this point”, says Mindy, who notes that everyone from James Bond to Luke Skywalker all died so that their franchise might live. Needless to say, we still need these icons to provide tangential links to the familiar.
Here, Courtney Cox is back as TV reporter Gale Weathers, still sniffing around for a good story. Sidney Prescott is absent, however. “She deserves to have her happy ending,” we’re told. So don’t expect Neve Campbell back.
There is a nice addition in the shape of Hayden Panettiere, who returns as Kirby, from Scream 4, now an FBI agent. She’s joining the case, alongside local cop Wayne Bailey (Dermot Mulroney), whose daughter Quinn (Liana Liberato) is one of Tara and Sam’s roommates. Panettiere gives a spirited turn as a slasher survivor who has turned her fear into anger.
Less pleasing is the use of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’s Red Right Hand on the soundtrack, a song forever associated with the opening credits of the BBC’s masterful gangster show Peaky Blinders. It feels a little cheap using it here. Same goes for the violence. Numerous film murders can get a little tedious after a while and Scream VI doesn’t hold back in eye-gouging, stomach-slitting, knife-twisting nastiness.
Despite some half-decent set-pieces, showing their abilities as filmmakers, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett have rather exhausted the goodwill that they gained for last year's film. The urban setting adds little, while the film also drags in the final third after the big reveal. This feels like a franchise that needs to be put in the ground now, permanently. Scream? More like yawn.
Scream VI opens in UAE cinemas on March 30.