The Scream franchise has had ups and downs since its groundbreaking debut with the original in 1996. Director Wes Craven delivered a raucous and brutal knife to the face of the genre that helped make him wealthy—and revitalized commercial horror cinema.
Craven churned out three sequels, including the awful Scream 3 and Scream 4. When the legendary horror director passed away after the fourth chapter, it seemed as if the film franchise was finished. (There was a TV show based on the series that I’ve never seen.)
Last year’s Scream (or Scream 5) was surprisingly good, bringing Ghostface back to life with some of its best mayhem yet. It was easily the best film in the franchise after the original, a promising reboot that did a fine job of making fun of that reboot status.
Now we have Scream VI, with 5’s directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett returning for another go, along with 5 stars Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega, and legacy franchise members like Courteney Cox. Neve Campbell, for the first time in Scream movie history, is absent.
The meta-jokes continue—but as with the Craven sequels, the film is annoyingly too cute for its own good. While it’s better than the Craven sequels, Scream IV is a step back from the revitalized feel of last year’s triumph. This feels like more of the same.
The first half of the film works just fine, and actually includes some of the stronger moments in the franchise. It takes place in Manhattan, with fun set pieces like subways and convenience stores; this part of the film feels fresh and different. But the film degenerates in the final act. The payoff is just too silly and tedious for the sometimes-impressive movie that came before it.
It’s understandable that the producers wanted to strike while the iron was hot and, following the original Craven Scream blueprint, get another movie out quickly. (Scream VI had a nice box office opening, so I expect that another chapter will be hitting us sooner rather than later.) Perhaps it’s the release of one film on top of the other that had me feeling like I had already seen the movie I was watching. It also feels a little rushed rather than fully realized. For art’s sake, maybe a little bit of breathing room with time to get things right—an extra year, perhaps?—would’ve allowed for this one to feel a little fresher.
Jenna Ortega’s popularity has exploded due to Wednesday, and I suspect she could possibly have a headlining role in future films rather than the supporting role she currently inhabits—if she chooses to stick around. Or maybe not. Maybe she dies in Scream VI. I’m not telling.
I went back and watched all of the Scream films after watching this one. (I have a lot of free time on my hands, and all of the previous films are streaming on Paramount+.) Scream V and Scream VI are definitely the second- and third-best films in the franchise—but that’s not saying VI is any good. That is saying the franchise is mostly made up of slapped-together cash grabs.
Also, after re-watching all of the movies, I noticed how many people survive multiple, violent stab wounds. Just ask Hayden Panettiere and Jenna Ortega: Both of their characters got violently disemboweled in previous installments, yet here they are in Scream VI with nothing but a couple of little scars and some hurt feelings to show for it.
You know things are a little off when a film franchise relies on Skeet Ulrich cameos to provide big moments. Hey, producers: Let pop culture and the internet infect themselves further for a couple of years before doing another Scream movie. I’m sure the world will be screwy enough by 2025 or 2026 to give Scream writers all sorts of new fodder.