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IF YOU CAN KILL IT THERE...
Scream VI (18)
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Screenplay: James Vanderbilt, Guy Busick
Starring: Melissa Barrera, Courteney Cox, Jenna Ortega
Review: David Stephens
See? If you try and be clever with film titles, it can come back to bite you pretty quickly. After last year’s why-call-it-that-when-it’s-plainly-a-sequel Scream, they soon had to revert to roman numerals. Have we learnt nothing from the Final Destination and (eew) Fast and Furious title complications? Pedantic gripes aside… Ghostface is back. Well “back” as in another murderer has adopted the persona for motives that would have Hercule Poirot reaching for the ibuprofen and Benoit Blanc hanging up his cravat in disgust. This new entry in the enduring franchise was greenlit rapidly after the success of the “requel”. And if you don’t know what a “requel” is … don’t worry. The screenplay rubs your face in it, as well as the rules for surviving later entries in a horror franchise. Anyway, the film greatly benefits from the fact that previous leads Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega are personable and great in their roles, especially with Ortega’s recent winning turns in Wednesday, X, etc. The guiding hands of the Radio Silence collective return with the co-direction of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet carrying over from the previous film. This time, however, we are in the Big Apple as opposed to the small town of Woodsboro. Not the first time in a big city for the franchise though. Remember Scream 3? Anyhow, we’re more interested in whether this is a Broadway hit or a Skid-Row slasher,
After a glorious (and gore-ious) opening sequence involving a well-known genre face, we reconnect with sisters Sam (Barrera) and Tara (Ortega) Carpenter roughly one year after “Scream”. Having moved to NYC for college, Tara is embracing the frat party lifestyle and trying to put Woodsboro behind her with surviving friends Mindy and Chad (Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding). Sam has followed her there, making up the “core four”, whilst finding it difficult to allow Tara out of her sight and wrestling with the violent urges she apparently inherited from her father (Skeet Ulrich cameoing in her head as Billy Loomis again). However, bloody murders involving another killer wearing a weathered Ghostface mask start to occur again. This time he/she seems to have a beef with Sam, as well as an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Scream (and “Stab”) timelines. Throw legacy characters Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) into the mix, and you’ve got another recipe for slasher mayhem and a bloody whodunnit with the obligatory meta moments.
Is this a fun and entertaining slasher? Yep! Is it full of blood and vicious mayhem? You betcha. Is it as convoluted and unlikely as Glass Onion or an average episode of Midsomer Murders? Pretty much. Is it as good as the original? No. Let’s face it, Wes Craven’s original was lightning in a bottle and caught the zeitgeist at precisely the right time for the genre industry in 1996. In hindsight, we probably overrated last year’s film mainly because we were just glad that it didn’t suck monkey balls, unlike some horror sequels or reboots we could mention… In comparison, this new entry does nail some things and performs fan service in the best possible way. However, some things need to be left behind now should this movie series continue. And judging by reviews and projected box office takings, that’s very possible.
Starting with the good. And when it’s good, it’s very, very good. The opening kill sequence is superbly mounted and incorporates modern themes (online dating, etc) before doing something that the franchise has never done before! Seriously. No spoilers, but it’s a doozy! From that point, the kills are especially bloody and dark. The previous Ghostface killers have never been comical, but there’s always been a tiny amount of slapstick and goofiness as Sidney & Co. caused them to slip over or be crushed by household objects. This version feels a little more vicious and focused, not adverse to “bending the rules” when it suits. By the way, those aghast at Ghostface using a shotgun should know that it makes perfect sense in context and is not the norm.
There are several standout sequences, with an attack in an apartment brilliantly aping Hitchcock classics Rear Window and Vertigo. The subway scene (seen in the trailer) is also well done, complete with guest appearances of Michael Myers and “Pinhead”! Giallo films and Dario Argento are name-checked and the Grand Guignol finale in a theatre smacks of StageFright, Demons and other similar Italian offerings. It’s excellent to see Panettiere back as Kirby, who is given an enjoyable-if-unlikely reason for tangling with newbie GF and she’s obviously relishing the chance to assume the role of the fan favourite again. Just watch her horror fan nerd-off with Mindy for the obvious nod to the loyal audience. By comparison, Gale Weathers feels like she’s been shoehorned into the cast by necessity. As watchable as Cox always is, the characterisation feels a little sketchy (would Gale really behave like that after what happened to Dewey?). It makes you realise why Neve Campbell passed on the project, apart from the pay issues of course. Sidney is called out and treated with reverence, but to be honest she probably wouldn’t have been served well by the story anyway.
This highlights the main issue of concern with Scream VI. As mentioned, the opening sequence is great. This is mainly because it acknowledges the usual tropes but then does something genuinely different and almost shocking with the setup. Just like the original. The “piece of meat” monologues hammer this home and make it feel daring and inventive. Sadly, this level of innovation is not sustained for the most part. Instead, we get Mindy coaching the group (and audience) about the rules of a franchise, fingers being literally pointed at suspected characters, and reminders about who is probably going to die. This works during the atmospheric “shrine” scene, with props and costumes collected from the previous killings. But the “meta” thing is getting old now, to be honest. How much more does it take before talking about tropes being tropes becomes an irritating trope? We even have cast members saying “I hate this franchise” and “Who cares about the movies?” (twice!). You get to the point where you half expect Mindy to pop her head out of the screen and say, “You know this is a horror film, right?”
The dénouement is one of the nuttiest yet, which is saying something, and that’s not necessarily in a good way. Going forward, if there is a Scream VII, it needs to take a few chances and make some changes, even if it risks upsetting some of the more fervent followers. There’s no need to have a “rule-setting” scene with an appointed horror fan anymore. We get it. More twists and shocks are the way to go. Giallo style is teased so maybe it should also be embraced. Aside from all that, this IS a worthy sequel to the previous “requel” and excellent popcorn entertainment for genre fans. We just hope that the inventiveness shown here in some scenes is expanded for future entries. Oh, and there IS a post-credit scene … but don’t stick around for it. You’ll hate yourself if you do!
Fun, entertaining, vicious, and extremely gory. The opening sequence is an absolute joy and one of the best. However, it doesn’t sustain that initial thrust of inventiveness and some later scenes become a little overly familiar in content and style. A great time for horror fans but things need to change if we see Part VII.
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