Scream VI

Scream VI ★★★

The Scream franchise might be the most easily accessible horror saga to exist. Never fully committing to the violent brutality of its subject matter due to its satirical underpinnings and familiar narrative structure, the series is able to effortlessly dip into campy comedy and smart meta commentary of its genre all the while maintaining a sense of thrilling suspense that one would expect to find in a slasher film. That being said, despite sharing these very hallmarks of the franchise, Scream VI feels the least like a Scream film in the entire franchise.

I would say that this mostly has to do with the lack of its emphasis on the whodunit aspect of its story. Scream VI excellently crafts a tense atmosphere throughout its runtime with its use of intricate set pieces (with the ladder sequence in particular coming to mind) and chase sequences (something thoroughly missed in the previous franchise entry) while also narrowing the scope of its narrative towards the survivors of the previous film and their attempts to move past their experiences. But in doing so, there is a lack of care when it comes to expanding upon its mystery above and beyond a merely superficial level. By this I mean to say that Scream VI goes through the important motions that any whodunit should with regard to establishing its characters and creating red-herrings, but it lacks any element of the investigative portion to this mystery that makes the final killer reveal feel anything other than silly. And don’t get me wrong, the franchise has never been particularly nuanced in providing justification for why the killers dawn the mantle of Ghostface, but Scream VI doesn’t even try to shroud the identity of the killer in an aura of doubt as you can easily deduce it within their first appearance and the amount of screentime and characterization they receive. This might be a symptom of a larger issue plaguing the franchise and that’s the overly bloated cast of characters.

It’s because of this that the absence of Neve Campbell in the role of Sydney Prescott doesn’t bother me (or even impose itself upon the narrative as much as I believed it would during the build-up to this movie’s release). As much as I adore her character, the story of Scream, and as blasphemous as this is to say, has evolved beyond her (and the other legacy characters') trauma. If Scream (2022) was about digging up the past and creating new victims out of reopening the wounds formed by these tragedies, then Scream VI is about moving past this trauma while not forcing oneself to be defined by it. Allowing these characters to grow is what gives this franchise its longevity. That being said, mentioning Sydney and her absence does create a hole that is difficult to fill, even when the new characters are mostly enjoyable to watch.

In its attempt to move away from the past, Scream VI offers what might be its most inventive opening kill since the lunacy that unfolded in Scre4m’s prologue [spoilers ahead in this paragraph]. This opening scene hints at the idea that the icon that is Ghostface is just really a mask that hides the true evils of those who wear it. By glorifying the mask we in some ways absolve the killer of their actions by making them appear larger than life. But if there is no mask to hide behind, our opinions of the violence the killer inflicts is challenged. Seeing the killer’s face forces us to become accountable for how we enjoy watching on-screen violence. We are complicit in it and cannot hide from that fact. In many ways it bears similarities to the increase in the true-crime genre and how we often sensationalize tragedies and the acts of killers. This becomes increasingly evident with the franchise’s turn to more grotesque forms of violence, now culminating in characters being practically gutted due to a dozen stab wounds, but surviving nonetheless, for the purpose of spectacle.

This leads me to another issue I have with the newest installments of the franchise and that’s its unwillingness to mature or truly comment on parallel issues that run alongside the filmic satire intertwined within it. For a movie that increasingly wants to move away from the past, it cannot fully embrace the idea of moving past the tried and true franchise formula to say anything new. The Scream series has always been intertwined with the ideas of glorifying violence through media consumption habits and scrutinizing such habits with its metatextual conversations on the genre. Much like the majorities of the other sequel installments, Scream VI’s meta commentary can be reduced to “this is what happens in a franchise sequel,” as opposed to taking the time to make any statements about what the effects of what this hyper-violence entails. The closest the franchise has ever gotten to making these assessments of violence in media and its effects on culture (outside of the first film) was in Scre4m when its killers were revealed to be clout hungry psychopaths. Perhaps Wes Craven was too ahead of his time with this subplot, but nonetheless, to ensure some semblance of longevity, the Scream franchise is in dire need of thematic overhaul to continue staying relevant and timely.

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