Updated: Apr 7
The newest entry in the meta-horror franchise is a surprising improvement on its predecessor
Horror movies tend to be set in claustrophobic settings; be it a single building, the suburbs, or other isolating factors, for obvious reasons of crafting entrapment. When franchises such as Friday the 13th have tried to explore other settings like New York City or space, they failed miserably. This was a concern when the Scream franchise decided to set their latest entry in the Big Apple.
Scream VI (2023) is the latest entry in the meta-horror franchise and the second directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. In it we find that the survivors of the previous Scream film have moved to New York City to pursue college or jobs. Sam (Melissa Barrera) is still haunted by the violence she had to perform to survive in the previous film, while others like her sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) or Chad (Mason Gooding) seem to have moved on. However, yet another killer in the infamous Ghostface costume begins to haunt them, and they must once again survive long enough to decipher who it is.
This is the first Scream film to not feature the franchise protagonist Neve Campbell. There were reported clashes with Paramount studios regarding salary disputes, which led to Campbell leaving the film. While sad, this doesn’t take away from the direction the franchise was moving in, as it had already been focusing on these younger set of characters. We still see faces from the other films such as Courtney Cox and Hayden Panettiere (returning from Scream 4 (2011)), but they are relegated to near-cameos. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett dig much deeper into the aftereffects of trauma from Scream (2022) and begin to explore who these characters really are in ways I hadn’t expected given their shallower work in the previous film.
Last year’s reboot/sequel Scream, felt like a shameless rehash of the first film, copying beats rather than coming up with anything original. With the switch to New York City, however, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett seem liberated. From the first scene they seek to subvert expectations of horror and Scream films alike. I was truly left guessing as to where the story would go by the end of the second act. There is notable character work done, to the point where I could start distinguishing characters by their names instead of the actors playing them. Even the central mystery of who the new Ghostface killer is and what their motivations are, kept me rapt with intrigue. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett craft longer and tenser sequences compared to the first film, particular highlights include a terrifying deli fight and a perilous crossing between apartment windows. The expanse of NYC is not traded in for a cheap claustrophobic ploy, but is utilized to terrifying effect. Ghostface can seem to be anywhere within the crowded streets, to the point that you miss the emptier spaces of the suburbs where you’d be able to easily discern suspicious characters. However, with such great build-up, a satisfying finale becomes increasingly required, and sadly the directing duo deliver a letdown.
The final fight in Scream VI is creative and tense enough to please most fans, however, the reveal of who Ghostface is disappointing, feeling like lazy patchy writing rather than an organically conclusion. This villain overacts to the point of campiness after their reveal, sans the relish of Matthew Lillard in the first Scream. As a result, the finale is robbed of the weight and payoff that the difficult build-up and tension had been earning to that point.
In the end, Scream VI is an improvement on its predecessor, mostly due to the creative unshackling of Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett. The finale falls flat due to an uninspired Ghostface reveal and poor acting on the villain’s part, but it’s not enough to take away from the enjoyable factors of this new horror entry, one that has finally used an expansive location to great effect.