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film review

Ghostface in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group's Scream VI.Photo Credit: Philippe Bossé/Paramount Pictures

Scream VI

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Written by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick

Starring Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega and Courteney Cox

Classification 18A; 123 minutes

In theatres March 10

There are, as the Scream franchise’s one-time audience surrogate Randy (Jamie Kennedy) put it in the very first film, rules to a slasher movie. The sexually promiscuous are punished, the virginal “final girl” makes it to the end, the bad guy is always the one you least suspect. And as any student of the genre knows, those rules get tossed out the window – defenestrated with bloody abandon – once the sequel machine kicks in.

The kills have to be bloodier, the twists twistier, and the continuity knottier.

Now six films in – with a healthy decade between installments four and five – the Scream series has both established and rewritten its rule book to the degree of illegibility, much to the likely dismay of poor video-geek Randy (who only lived long enough to see part two). The only constants at this point in the franchise are that someone will don the Ghostface mask, many attractive young people will die, and that the filmmakers will try to reverse-engineer a climactic reveal that no one could have possibly seen coming because it is far too convoluted and ludicrous for any sensible viewer to have imagined themselves.

Which is all fine. Really, it is! This is what these psycho-killer movies can, and for the most part should, do. So long as the deaths are brutal, the performances energetic, and the entire movie at least vaguely self-aware of its own ridiculousness, then slash baby slash. Scream VI (ScreaVI, if we’re feeling as cheeky as the film’s poster) doesn’t reinvent the blade – though for a hot minute it half-convinces itself that it has done just that – but it does deliver the goods, quickly and efficiently and oh-so-sharply.

Melissa Barrera, left, as Sam Carpenter and Jenna Ortega, right, as Tara Carpenter stars Scream VI.Philippe Bossé/Paramount Pictures

After taking over the franchise from series mastermind Kevin Williamson with 2021′s confusingly titled Scream (5cream was just sitting there, fellas), the team of co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and co-writers Guy Busick and James Vanderbilt are back with their half-ambitious, half-aggravating mission. The group’s approach is clever in that quiet “huh, clever” kind of way, as opposed to an “oh, quite clever!” exclamation. Whereas the first four Scream movies were meta-contextual spins on the horror genre as a whole, the fifth and now sixth films are meta-squared riffs on the Scream series itself.

This means that we get a lot of talk in part six about the perils of rebooting a dormant horror franchise and what to expect when making a sequel to a “requel” (that would be a reboot that doubles as a sequel). But practically, this all amounts to some annoying bits of dialogue delivered by annoying characters that annoyingly interrupt what the filmmakers are actually annoyingly good at executing: executions, and lots of ‘em.

Picking up just a few months after part five, Scream VI opens with tough sisters Samantha (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega) living in New York, having escaped the suburban hell of Woodsboro, Calif., after Samantha’s boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) turned out to be a serial killer obsessed with her father, the original Ghostface killer Billy (Skeet Ulrich).

The sisters’ friends/fellow survivors Chad (Mason Gooding) and Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) have also relocated to Manhattan to attend college with Tara, while frenemy-slash-tabloid newscaster Gail Weathers (Courteney Cox) is nearby on the Upper West Side, rich off the spoils of the sisters’ original plight. (Neve Campbell’s original “final girl” Sidney is, we’re told, living safe and sound on the West Coast, a script write-around necessitated by stalled contract negotiations between Campbell and the film’s producers.)

Aside from Samantha’s serious cases of post-traumatic stress, everyone seems mostly fine to leave their pasts behind in Woodsboro, site of the first five films’ massacres. But as can happen, the past ain’t done with them, and soon enough a new Ghostface is on the scene in New York, targeting Samantha and Tara’s friends until the two sisters are the last ones standing.

Courteney Cox returns to the franchise as Gale Weathers in Scream VI.Photo Credit: Philippe Bossé/Paramount Pictures

While Scream VI’s opening is as cutting as a superficial wound – there is a “reveal” in the film’s first five minutes that is ultimately a red herring itself, and not nearly as slick or smart a false lead as its creators think it is – the movie quickly picks up the pace.

This isn’t a delayed trip to the fireworks factory like Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (a clip of which is played here). Barely half an hour in and there are already multiple bodies on the floor, cops swarming the streets, Ghostface cosplayers running around the subway system, and accusations aplenty. And while the film’s handful of new characters amount to little more than fresh meat, Samantha and Tara are given just enough layers to anchor the carnage.

Ortega, fresh off the first season of the Netflix sensation Wednesday, is easily the most skilled performer of the bunch, bringing real vulnerability to the underwritten Tara. But it is also fun to see familiar faces like Henry Czerny, Tony Revolori, and Dermot Mulroney join the ensemble, each of them overacting for all the right reasons. (A stiff Samara Weaving, stunt-casted in the fashion of Drew Barrymore/Jada Pinkett Smith/Aimee Teegarden/etc., doesn’t fare as well, playing a film-studies professor who unfortunately hasn’t familiarized herself with her own syllabus.)

While the film’s ending expects audiences to untie some impossible fan-theory knots, the climax is also packed to the rafters with murder and mayhem and even a little on-the-nose movie-theatre nostalgia, resulting in moments that demand fits of laughter, gasps and, of course, screams. Best to yell yourself silly now, too, because none of it will matter come the inevitable 7cream.