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Film review: ‘Scream VI’ plays it safe with familiar settings, scare tactics

Ghostface stands holding a knife in “Scream VI.” The film premiered March 10. (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Scream VI”

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett 

Paramount Pictures

March 10

By Sanjana Chadive

March 10, 2023 7:42 p.m.

Ghostface is slicing through the Big Apple – albeit with a slightly dull blade.

“Scream VI,” the latest chapter in the popular horror franchise, follows the survivors of the killings in the previous film as they try to navigate a fresh start in New York City. However, their past quickly catches up to them when a new wave of Ghostface murders begins. Adroitly paced and frighteningly brutal, the film is the most gruesome installment yet. In spite of its engaging premise and new setting, “Scream VI” is ultimately held back by directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s decision to prioritize nostalgia over novelty.

The movie opens with a young film professor receiving a call from Ghostface before she is ruthlessly stabbed to death in an alleyway. An obvious callback to the very first scene of the franchise, the beginning is the first of many attempts to reference the movie’s predecessors. Those who are fans of the “Scream” series and other slasher pictures will easily predict the fate of the professor because of the familiar structure, shattering any sort of tension.

[Related: Film review: ‘Men’ reveals monstrosity of misogyny with gory visuals but lacks cohesive plot]

Nevertheless, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are more than capable of crafting suspense in “Scream VI.” One of the most memorable parts of the film is an eerie sequence on a subway, where Ghostface terrorizes one of the protagonists, Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown). Through the effortless weaving of quick jump cuts and flashing lights, the directors aptly capture Mindy’s fear and the overall chaotic energy of the crowded subway.

Aside from the occasional verdant backdrop of Central Park and a few shots of the cityscape, the subway sequence is one of the only scenes in the film that displays its urban setting. The marketing of “Scream VI” heavily leaned into the fact that the new location would distinguish the film from its predecessors. Yet in the end, the film felt much smaller than it was promised to be, as the majority of it still took place within interiors that resembled the ones in the suburbs. Needless to say, there was absolutely no reason for the story to take place in New York, as Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett favored familiar territory over taking risks in terms of setting.

Another way “Scream VI” was bogged down by remembrances of the previous installments was through its inclusion of certain characters, specifically Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox). As the only character to appear in all of the “Scream” films, Gale initially came off as a selfish journalist who only cared about a headline-grabbing story. Her heart softened as the series progressed, exemplified by her decision in 2022’s “Scream” to pen a tribute for her ex-husband, Officer Dewey (David Arquette), after his death instead of a report about the most recent Ghostface killings.

However, at some point between the last movie and “Scream VI,” Gale does eventually write a rather scathing perspective of the events of “Scream” (2022), destroying all of her character development. Although Gale’s arc reached a fitting end in the last film, it’s clear Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett decided to stretch it out in their aim to capitalize on nostalgia. One can argue that there is no reason for them to dwell in the past as the new characters introduced in “Scream” (2022) are far more interesting than the original ones.

[Related: Forging Fear: Slasher films provide sordid expression of cultural cynicism, societal fears]

For example, one of the most compelling elements of “Scream VI” is the relationship between its protagonists, Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) and Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega). The dynamic between the two sisters is rather complicated given that they are both navigating their trauma from the events of the previous film in different ways. Sam is confronting her past head-on by going to therapy, whereas Tara is attempting to shield herself from it by immersing herself in the college experience. The stark contrast in the siblings’ coping mechanisms proves a gripping side conflict, which is mainly successful because of Barrera and Ortega’s acting prowess.

Like its predecessors, “Scream VI” is pure, bloody fun that will engage audiences for two hours. The technical aspects of the film are especially impressive and a testament to how the horror genre and filmmaking as a whole have evolved over the last 25 years. Nonetheless, it never quite reaches its potential because of the directors’ desire to reminisce rather than embrace more original storylines.

If the “Scream” franchise is to remain sharp, it must let go of the ghosts of its past.

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Sanjana Chadive | Lifestyle editor
Chadive is the 2023-2024 lifestyle editor. She was previously an Arts staff writer from 2022-2023. She is a third-year comparative literature student from Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania.
Chadive is the 2023-2024 lifestyle editor. She was previously an Arts staff writer from 2022-2023. She is a third-year comparative literature student from Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania.
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