Picture the scene – Ghostface stands over a gibbering victim during the trademark, precredits sequence in the latest Scream film only to utter the legend: “Who gives a fuck about movies?!” before their coup de grace violently wipes the frame. It’s a bold statement for anyone wearing the wispy garb of the franchise’s signature antagonist, but it acts as a statement of intent for this, the sixth installment of the meta-slasher series that impressively seems to still have plenty of gas left in the tank.
Less we forget, the franchise got a sizable shot of adrenaline, Pulp Fiction style, a year earlier thanks to the loving/brutal tribute paid by directing team Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett that mixed up a brand new group of victims/killers to be with the surviving original cast to magnificent effect. But now, as we move even further into this new status quo, does Scream actually have anything new left to say after all this time?
A year has passed since Samantha Carpenter (a still-gutsy Melissa Barrea) and her sister, Tara (Jenna Ortega still on her victory lap from Wednesday), fended off the blade of a pair of killers trying to kickstart better Stab sequels by giving filmmakers another real-life Massacre to adapt, and the younger sister has moved to New York to attend college with fellow survivors Mindy and Chad Meeks-Martin while Sam has tagged along to protect her younger sibling. However, when yet another Stab-related homicide occurs that’s both linked to Sam and Tara and all the previous bouts of Ghostface slayings, everyone wisely sets their nerves on high alert.
However, things are a little more complicated that usual as while Sam is seeing a therapist about her experience and the fact that she’s the illegitimate daughter of the original killer, Billy Loomis, but persistent conspiracy theories persist that she was actually responsible for the previous year’s murders are a constant problem, as is the issue of Tara’s refusal to deal with the trauma at all.
All this gets roughly shoved to the side when it’s revealed that this newest Ghostface is basing his/her/they’re/whatever killings not on a encyclopedic knowledge of horror flicks, but mostly on the Stab franchise itself, twinning some deep cuts with even deeper ones inflicted by a big fucking knife.
As survivors from Ghostface attacks past and present once again unite to try and figure out who lurks behind the mask, the bodycount rises with a vicious streak that somehow surpasses the bloodbaths that came before.
Can Sam, Tara and a wealth of other faces stay one step ahead of this latest, phone-happy maniac when the rules of the franchise dictate that the only rule is that there now are no rules and anthing goes – and frequently does.
Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett’s previous bout of Screamin’ gave us the confusingly titled, yet incredibly involving legacy sequel which not only acted as a weirdly moving tribute to the late Wes Craven while the slower moving teens got their spleens obliterated by the iconic killer, but it moved the entire franchise forward in a satisfying way that re-energised the entire franchise. Thankfully, the directing team has managed to make lightning strike twice as Scream VI delivers superior slasher slickness while bringing the giggles and the gore in not-quite-equal measure.
As the previous movie coined the term “Requel” and then desperately tried to make it happen, the movie literate kids, lead by Jasim Savoy Brown’s Randy replacement realise they’re now in “Requel Sequel”, but a more accurate term might just be “Equal” as Scream VI manages to be every bit as electrifying as its predecessor, even if it’s for subtly different reasons. While not as out and out funny as their earlier effort and some of the “franchise rules” the script tries to enforce are a bit of a stretch, the directors instead double down on the most consistently sound set pieces the franchise has seen since the marvelously ambitious Scream 2. To put it simply, in this film, Ghostface don’t play, with the thrill and violence quota ramped way up to create a legitimately exciting experience. There’s the open sequence with Ready Of Not’s Samara Weaving that giddily fucks with conventions, there’s a sweat inducing face/off with shotgun wielding Ghostface in a store, a genuinely nerve wracking moment involving a ladder, a genius set-up as the survivors realise that getting on the subway during Halloween while a masked killer is on the loose provides it’s own, unique challenges and a knock down, drag out brawl involving Courtney Cox’s Gail Weather’s as she’s stalked in her own apartment. All of these moments play as tight as a drum, each one playing out as subtly different from one another, yet each one cleanly planned out and gruesome as hell.
Yup, while the Scream series has hardly ever skimped on the red stuff, the gore quota here is through the fucking roof, with a lot of the graphic knife work ending up having you screaming “In the face! IN THE FACE!!!” much like Rob Riggle does in The Hangover. As exciting as it all is, you might take a moment to zone out during all the dismembered bodies and more stab wounds than the entire Raid franchise to take a moment to wonder how any of the survivors aren’t condemned to shitting in a bag after several movies worth of punctured kidneys and perforated intestines-surely Gail Weathers alone must look like just one mangled lump of scar tissue once her clothes come off.
As kickass as this movie is, however, utter perfection is only just tantalisingly out of reach. While Neve Campbell’s understandable no-show is disappointing, it also actually benefits the story, but some might feel that Ghostface’s switch from outright horror movies to the more limited view of just the history his own franchise might be a little lazy despite the metric ton of easter eggs the movie revels in (Kirby! Ghostface shrine!) and the finale only just restrains itself from flying off the tracks completely.
However, the fact that the newer cast members have now earned their stripes (not to mention a genuinely adorable nickname in the Core Four) means that once again, we have a slasher film where we don’t actually want anyone to die and its tremendously affecting if it does.
It says an incredible amount for a series when its newest installment is utterly fantastic and yet probably is somehow the third or fourth best entry of the franchise, but that just goes to show how well done these new Scream movies really are.
Is the central concept starting to strain a little? After six movies, I’d be worried if it wasn’t, but thanks to some staggeringly graphic kills, some cracking setpieces and a legitimately likable cast, Scream VI shows that Ghostface still has some considerable legs and enough edge to cut deep. Real deep.