Directors – Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett – 2022 – US – Cert. 18 – 123m
The sixth entry in the Scream franchise relocates from Woodsboro to New York City as the masked killer continues to stalk and kill his victims – out in UK cinemas on Friday, March 10th
The phone rings. Someone picks up. If it’s the first time he’s called, the caller (voice: Roger L. Jackson) engages them in conversation, often about whether they like movies, in particular scary movies. This often leads to the recipient of the call being bloodily murdered shortly after. But not always. Some of the characters in the Scream movies stay alive via a judicious knowledge of the rules of horror films. The previous five films, of which the fifth film is somewhat confusingly called Scream exactly the same as the first, are set in the town of Woodsboro, California with a cast of repeating characters among the ongoing survivors.
This sixth film is set in the very different urban milieu of New York City. Which, along with a smart graphic whereby the last three quarters of the letter ‘M’ are coloured red to turn into the Roman numeral VI, may entice back viewers who had long since given up on the franchise (the ideas got tired after the first couple of films).
The best thing in the new film occurs in the opening seconds, as the camera enters an exclusive New York bar and passes the reception, where an incoming phone caller is put on hold by the receptionist. You hold your breath and wonder where this is going to go. Then a character at the bar takes a phone call and a five-minute game of cat and mouse ensues which may (or may not) end with her violent death. The remainder of the film seems to consist largely of the killer ringing up and sometimes outwitting and killing his victims, sometimes not. It’s mildly entertaining on a highly superficial level, but it’s not a patch on the original two films.
The director of the first four films Wes Craven having sadly passed away in 2015, this is directed by Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett – the duo responsible for the weirdly-titled fifth film – and features the four surviving Westboro residents from that film who have moved to New York – Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), half-sister Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) plus twins Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding), who helpfully dubs the four of them the ‘core four’, as well as Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) from Scream 4 and turned FBI agent investigating the slayings, and Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), the celebrity-driven journalist who wrote a book on the first film’s murders and has appeared in every single film in the franchise, the only actor to do so discounting the unseen Roger L. Jackson.
The whole thing washes over the audience in a “fun while it lasts, but can live without it” sort of way. A scene in which characters have to cross between two opposite, high up apartment windows that has definitely been done before. The cast members are all quite watchable, and the production value is easy on the eyes, but if you were given the choice to watch the first film – which by the way is terrific – or this one, there’s really no competition.
To be fair, there are some striking set pieces. Chase / flight sequences in small NY apartments are shot as confusing labyrinths so that, just as you think a potential victim has put some distance between him/herself and the killer, up the killer pops. Other highlights include a similarly labyrinthine, early sequence with the killer wielding a shotgun in a local convenience store and a Halloween costume sequence on the New York Subway wherein people wearing a Scream mask might be the killer, or they might simply be an innocent reveller.
Overall, though, this feels like a desperate attempt to keep alive a dead on its feet, former edge of the seat horror franchise that should have been despatched quite some time ago.
Scream VI is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, March 10th.