The Scream franchise is not one that wants to be taken seriously as a straight horror film. From the first iconoclastic installment so many years ago, its aim, it’s very raison d’être, was to call out the conventions of slasher films and then serve up a gory slashfest to an audience primed to laugh at the tropes while also being scared silly by the body count (and the amount of blood involved in creating it). And so it is with SCREAM VI, which builds on the sequel-requel debate of its immediate predecessor in order to create the rules involved in a franchise, which, we learn, are very different from those of the se- or re-quel. Here, legacy characters are fair game, we should all expect the opposite of what the se-re involves, and, most importantly, everything has to be bigger.
How else to keep the concept going without a dampening sense of déjà vu? It’s not just the jump from a smallish town in California to the Big Apple, or the amount of blood spilled, but also the size of the plot holes, which prove to be insurmountable even for a franchise deeply invested in winking at the audience as the killer, Ghost Face, goes about the business of terrorizing our protagonists.
They would be, once again, Sam and Tara (Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega), the Carpenter sisters with a rocky relationship who survived part five only to see social media, and the conspiracy enthusiasts on it, turn Sam into the villain of the murder spree instead of the actual killer, her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid), who was inspired by Sam’s father Billy (Skeet Ulrich), the original Ghost Face. Don’t worry about getting caught up on what happened a year ago (in both our time and that of the characters), Sam will review it all for her therapist (Henry Czerny) who seems to be the only person in New York unfamiliar with the case despite it being the inspiration for film and book blockbusters. His notions about security in the big city are also questionable, and will provide a plot point later.
Sam has tagged along with her sister to New York City along with best friends, the siblings Mindy and Chad (Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding,) as those three start college at Blackmore University. Alas, as Halloween looms Ghost Face returns, and not just (tiny spoiler) as the wannabe, the bodaciously named Jason Carver (Tony Revolori), at the beginning working out a personal grudge against his Film Studies professor (Samara Weaving). Her specialty is slasher films and, thus, gives us, in the course of conversation, the intellectual dissection of why the genre is so popular and so culturally significant.
Meanwhile, it is Mindy who once again expounds the rules, this time of a franchise, which allows us to consider why their new friends, Ethan the virgin (Jack Champion), Mindy’s new girlfriend, Anika (Devyn Nekoda), Quinn (Liana Liberato) the women’s sex positive roommate, and the studly guy (Josh Segarra) across the lightwell from their apartment are all likely candidates for being the new Ghost Face. Even Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), returning as the investigative journalist who is good at her job and bad at being a human being, is not off the suspect list, nor is Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) who returns to the franchise as the FBI agent assigned to the case. Off the list is Sidney (Neve Campbell), who, according to Gale, is enjoying the peace she has earned.
The tone is light, the carnage is gory, and this delicate soufflé of an idiom eventually falls under the weight of its own cleverness. In a world of cell phones, no one calls 911. In a world of vicious knife wounds to the belly, there are only two states, good to go and dead. In a world of cast iron skillets to the head (among other things) Ghost Face is momentarily slowed down, but before you can say laceration is fit as a fiddle and ready for mayhem. It is little wonder that the NYPD cop (Dermot Mulroney) assigned to the case despite a very personal involvement is depicted as being caught off-guard over things that a routine background check would clarify.
Still, the individual set pieces of victims being stalked are suspenseful (the subway full of Ghost Faces and other horror icons is a classic of sorts), and the very black humor has its moments even as the film, obeying its own rule about going big, takes on an operatic flavor without missing a beat. It makes SCREAM VI Intermittently fun and annoying. With properly calibrated expectations, it should be a treat for the hardcore fans of the franchise jonesing for another fix. Buffs of the genre, same caveat, will enjoy the call-outs. All others are forewarned and, thus, forearmed.