The Scream series has been a favorite of mine since the original turned horror on its head with a razor sharp, meta look at horror tropes. As the years passed the franchise evolved with the times to deliver a commentary on the ever-changing landscape of horror. Through the characters of Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) the films have covered slasher, sequels, requels and everything in between.
After the success of Scream (aka Scream V) the gang’s back together to stop another series of Ghostface killings or die trying. Wait… umm… no they’re not. For the first time in the series 25+ year history the original trio is not back for an entry. Campbell walked away from the series after a contract dispute while Arquette was written out – I will leave it at that. Filling their spots are ‘The Core 4,’ as they refer to themselves, consisting of the Carpenter sisters (Sam and Tara played by Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega) and the Meeks-Martin twins (Chad and Mindy, played by Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown).
After the last film which introduced the concept of the ‘requel’ to the Scream-iverse as well as labeling the original three with the ‘legacy character’ tag. It was not only obvious that the franchise was looking forward instead of back, it was part of the meta factor baked into the script. After years of fandom, Scream 5, had me curious where this franchise would go once 5 ended. I guess the answer to that is the city that never sleeps… NYC.
The film opens with one of the best openings in the franchise featuring Samara Weaving as Lara. The actress hit most people’s radar after Ready Or Not, directed by Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin. After the success of that film, the duo were handed the keys to the Scream castle, hence Weaving’s appearance here. It is incredibly intense and takes full advantage of the setting, the busy streets of Manhattan. Lara receives a call from her date who cannot find the restaurant and decides to try to help him. From there it is all screaming-at-the-screen gory fun you would expect from a Scream film.
Enter the Core 4, who have left Woodsboro after the events of Scream 5 which left a trail of bodies across the cursed little town, again. In an attempt to move on Tara pursues an education at Blackmore University. Her big sister, Sam, is unwilling to let her spread her wings just yet and follows her across the country to protect her sister who does not want protection. Mindy and Chad were accepted to Blackmore, of course. The gang’s all here, as is Ghostface – at least another iteration of the killer who quickly targets the survivors of the most recent Woodsboro killings.
In addition to the Ghostface killings following them thousands of miles away from home, Sam is facing false accusations about her being the true mastermind and murderer of the Scream 5 killings. What luck, you head to a metropolis to get lost in the crowd only to find yourself targeted by a killer and social media driven haters.
As the killings pick up, so do the Scream franchise tropes with each of the Core 4 replacing the characters of the original. That is besides Gale who shortly after the New York Ghostface murders pops up with microphone in hand to get the scoop. As if the Core 4 all living in New York was not a big enough stretch, Gale’s presence only casts more suspicions that this entry is half baked. Saving the details to be discovered on your own, I will say that many familiar notes are played here though many of them are pitchier than ever.
For example, Mindy (aka Randy 2.0) again gives us ‘The Rules’ (started by her uncle Randy played by Jamie Kennedy in Scream 1) a welcome recurring bit across the series. The problem is this time around they do not land with the weight or clever insight they once carried. This does not fall on Jasmine Savoy Brown, the Yellowjackets star is great again here, but does not seem to believe what she is selling. The Rules typically connect the film to the horror tropes that the film is sending up. With only 14 months between the 5 & 6, horror has not changed enough to comment on. The whole “this is all about the franchise’ meta take is the weakest yet. It is a recurring issue in the film, from start to finish it has little to say.
Faring better than the recent Halloween reboot trilogy, which in my mind wasted a chance to do something special, this still feels like an extension of the Scream franchise without trashing everything before it. At the same time, it feels like a wasted opportunity to truly cross that bridge from the past to the future of the series. The film constantly reminds us that this truly is part of a franchise through a series of coincidences and convoluted plot developments which include callbacks to previous entries which in the end feel hollow.
Sydney (Campbell) is gone, and honestly not missed as much as I would hope, simply because the filmmakers are set on moving forward. While they talk about legacy most the connective tissue feels gimmicky. Even in 5 Campbell was a bit player – the writing was on the wall that she was being pushed out and there is little interest in making sense of it. Exit Sydney, enter Kirby (Hayden Paniteirre) who somehow survived Scream 4 in the most crowbarred-in red herring I can recall in the franchise. I am one of the biggest proponents of Scream 4, but her inclusion here only hurts the series as a whole. Once dead, you need to remain dead – that is unless you have a killer idea. This character’s involvement is not that.
To be clear, I had a lot of fun watching this entry. Casual fans and general horror fans will enjoy its gorier than ever kills surrounded by incredibly intense chase scenes. While Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin move the franchise forward it comes at the expense of too much plausibility. Suspension of disbelief is challenged consistently from the character coincidences to the all of reality thrown out the window.
One prime example is the significant physical damage the characters are put through only to be literally walking away from it all minutes later. Having the killer hit in the face numerous times with heavy blunt objects, only to be lacking any signs of the beating during the reveal (or earlier in the film) was a choice. Worse though is having several characters taking multiple stab wounds only to survive. A kill should be a kill, miracle survivals with little to no lagging repercussions is a cop out. Other shake-my-head moments, callbacks, and a one crucial setting of the film just feel lazy and tough to accept after already questioning so much.
Speaking of the killer, we of course are given our big reveal at the end of the film. It is a moment where the through the formulaic nature of the series (something this film winks at the camera about perhaps a few too many times) we know the explanation for all the madness before it will be dished out. This time around it lands with a huge thud treading the line between homage and parody. The new, big city setting does provide for a few interesting scenarios, but as someone who has lived in NYC for a couple of decades, it rarely feels like New York. Again, missing some opportunities to make a statement.
I had hoped for an ingenious or at least clever scenario, one that would connect old and new, laying out the perfect way to take Scream to where it wants to be, in the hands of the Core 4. I know this breaks one of the 10 commandments of film criticism: Thou shall not let your own expectations, wants, or theories tarnish what is actually on screen. I know, and I do not care. There is a great idea available to the writers, staring them right in the face (ask me about it if you’d like, it’s pretty darn good) and instead they went with a ludicrous and unguessable ending that nearly destroyed the rest of the film.
That ending also did something I had never expected, it numbed my hope and interest in a follow-up. Is my love affair with the franchise over? I would not go as far to say that. Sam and Tara are strong lead characters, especially with the cool ties back to the original film. Something the will hopefully better play off of going forward. But if the next entry – and there will be a next entry – cannot deliver, I will probably add this to the same shelf as Halloween, sitting on – a once beloved franchise that has gone astray. Maybe that is the meta approach for next time, disappointing sequels.
Scream remained a strong franchise over the decades on the strength of its commentary on the genre, killer twists, and its ability to keep us invested in the legacy cast. While as a horror film it plays its strengths well, as a Scream film it fumbles the handoff of the series from Originals to the Core 4. Ultimately, this installment lacks stakes because the filmmakers are more focussed on passing the baton than anything else – therefore the kills do nto carry much weight. Having Gale and even Sydney (by mention only) in the film lacks purpose at this point and only dulls the edge the series once possessed. The Core 4 are a worthy heir to the Scream throne. If they are to inherit the franchise then do it properly and move on already in a way that resharpens that blade. The film has suffered a few significant stabs to the mid-region, let’s hope like its ‘victims’ it finds a way to come out of it unscathed in the next film.
While reasonably entertaining the 25+ year old ‘Scream’ franchise is showing its age in a fumbled attempt to move itself forward.