SCREAM VI movie poster | ©2023 Paramount Pictures

SCREAM VI movie poster | ©2023 Paramount Pictures

Rating: R
Stars: Melissa Barrera, Courteney Cox, Jenna Ortega, Jasmin Savoy-Brown, Mason Gooding, Hayden Panettiere, Devyn Nekoda, Josh Segarra, Jack Champion, Liana Liberato, Tony Revolori, Samara Weaving, Dermot Mulroney, Henry Czerny, Roger Jackson
Writers: James Vanderbilt & Guy Busick, based on characters created by Kevin Williamson
Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: March 10, 2023

At this point, constructing a new SCREAM movie has got to be like solving a Rubik’s cube, or maybe one of those mathematical equations relating to quantum mechanics.

Just figuring out why a serial killer would dress up in that Edvard Munch-inspired mask and black fluttering robe seems hard enough. Do the people making FRIDAY THE 13th and HALLOWEEN and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET sequels have this problem? No. They have a single protagonist who kills, problem solved.

But the SCREAM films, starting with the 1996 original, written by Kevin Williamson and directed by Wes Craven, have set themselves a special set of challenges. They aren’t just slasher flicks, they are a meta-text on slasher flicks, commenting in both dialogue and action on the rules of the genre, subversion of the rules, what to expect, what to do, and so on.

In SCREAM 2, in 1997, Williamson and Craven also got to comment on sequels. The in-story “Stab” films, which purport to dramatize the events we see in the SCREAM movies, provide a logical vehicle for this. By SCREAM 3 in 2000, new-to-the-SCREAM-universe screenwriter Ehren Kruger was commenting on franchises.

Last year’s fifth SCREAM film, actually SCREAM 5 though it is simply titled SCREAM, was written by James Vanderbilt & Guy Busick, and directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett. They had to introduce a whole new group of characters while integrating three “legacy” characters from the first four go-rounds, find quasi-fresh (if not wholly new) reasons for all the havoc and why particular people are being targeted by the killer, and continue to discuss what’s happening in terms of horror traditions without totally blowing the mood.

SCREAM 5 arguably overdid it a wee bit on the self-commentary. Bettinelli-Olpin & Gillett and Vanderbilt & Bostick, returning as the director and writer combos, respectively, for SCREAM VI, have a better handle on that at this point. In fact, considering everything that has to be taken into account, they do an impressive job.

It helps that virtually all of the surviving characters from SCREAM 5 are back in SCREAM VI. (The one notable exception is Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott, whose absence is explained onscreen.) This means that it’s easier to get things in motion sooner.

Without spoiling anything not in the trailers, it can be said that the action has moved to New York City. The filmmakers have found a variety of ways to keep the plot moving and tie everything together, while at the same time amping up the suspense to respectable slasher levels. They also make good use of well-lit environments – the sequence in the convenience store (again, it’s in the trailer) is highly effective.

Yes, Jasmin Savoy-Brown, back as horror-savvy Mindy Meeks-Martin, has a monologue about slashers that tries to address every single notion that may occur to any given audience member. However, overall, there’s a greater sense of forward momentum in SCREAM VI. Everybody seems to be less worried about comparisons and more concerned with the project at hand, resulting in a film that feels like it has more breathing room.

Melissa Barrera makes her vigilant Sam Carpenter grumpy without being alienating. Courteney Cox, a veteran of all SCREAM films thus far, continues to find pathos and comedy in the opportunistic journalist Gale Weathers. The rest of the cast is fine as well, with those called upon to make hairpin turns navigating them appropriately.

There are several holidays’ worth of Easter eggs in costumes, set decoration, and even character names, all of which are fun. But what’s most satisfying here is that SCREAM VI works both as something with VI in its title and as a piece that can stand on its own.

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