Blood in the Big Apple
Any time you get a few movies deep into a series the questions that naturally comes to mind is, "did we need this?" every series will eventually get to a point where the films feel less and less necessary (the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. is currently battling with its own relevance as it shifts from Phase IV into Phase V), prompting viewers to wonder if the series should have ended and if continuing is really worth the fuss. Sometimes it is, other times the effort just isn't worth the return.
Looking at the ScreamWhat started as a meta-commentary on slasher media became just another slasher series in its own right, the Scream series then reinvented itself as a meta-commentary on meta-commentary. series, the film has reached their natural, "did we really need this?" moment back with Scream 4 (or Scre4m if you're a monster). The franchise has quickly seen highs and lows in its original trilogy (from best to worst: Scream, Scream 3, then Scream 2), but the fourth felt like the series was simply floundering. Director Wes Craven phoned in his four-quel, and the script from Kevin Williamson was butchered, removing a possible "final girl was the real killer" all along angle for just another ho-hum Scream film. It felt unnecessary.
That's what made 2022's Scream (aka Scream 5, or 5cream if you really have no soul) such a surprise. While not a perfect film, it managed to actually relaunch the franchise with a film that took everything back to its roots, riffed on the original film, and set up a new cast of characters that could go off and do their own thing for films to come. They didn't have to, mind you; the film was self-contained and absolutely didn't leave much in the way of plot threads dangling that had to be resolved if another film never materialized. But the film was a massive success, a return to form at the Box Office, proved there was still life in the series.
And that brings us back to the point I was making at the start of this article: did we need a sixth film in the series. Watching the newly dubbed ScreaIVI (we're just going to call it Scream VI because I just can't with the titles) I found myself wondering just how much farther this series could go. Make no mistake, this sixth film is a worthy direct sequel to the fifth, picking up plot ideas that viewers likely wouldn't have even thought of to finally wring the last bits of life out of the story. But did it feel needed? I don't really know about that. It's fun, it's gory, it's legitimately scary at times, and that does put it in the upper echelons of the series. But it also makes me think that, after this, maybe we really should put the series to bed, once and for all.
This sixth entry opens with the standard Scream fake out. We meet a pretty blond, Laura Crane (played, of course, by legitimate star Samara Weaving), who is out on a date waiting for a mystery mister right. When he calls saying he can't find the restaurant they were supposed to meet at, she heads out onto the streets of NYC to look for him. One walk down a blind alley later, and the mystery man reveals himself to be the next killer to don the Ghostface mask. She dies, he enjoys killing her, and normally that's when the titles would flash on screen... except then he removes his mask and shows us who he is: Jason Carvey (Tony Revolori), film student.
Suddenly we're in a different kind of movie, if only for a few minutes, as Jason heads back home, revels in his first kill, and waits for his roommate to come home so they can plot chasing after Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega), our final girls from the first film. Except then someone comes and kills these two bozos, and we realize there's a Ghostface chasing down other potential killers because they want to be the one to take out Sam and Tara. And then we turn to our heroines, out in NYC, just trying to move on with their lives as, one by one, their friends are picked off by a new, unknown killer out for his own slice of fame and justice against these poor girls.
Let me say, this intro to the film is probably the best scene in a Scream film in some time. It ranks up there with the death sequence for Maureen Evans (Jada Pinkett) in Scream 2. Had the film committed to that bit, letting us know who the killer was from the beginning as we see them worm their way into the friend group of Sam and Tara, killing people while playing dumb about it, that would have been really interesting. It would have made the film about them more so than Sam and Tara, sure, but it would have been a real turn for the series. I got chills when the mask was revealed at the start of the film, and the movie I anticipated from there was one I hadn't seen before in this series.
Sadly, that wasn't the film we got. Not that Scream VI is bad, mind you -- it's actually quite good for a slasher flick -- but it does sadden me that the potential of that opening scene went unrealized. Instead, what we get is another pretty bog standard riff on the Scream formula. The film picks bits of Scream 2 (a college-set adventure) and Scream 3 (with a story that links all the previous continuity of the franchise together) and does build to a decent finale. But it does end up feeling like yet another standard play for the series, another nominal sequel that does the same thing, over and over again, because how many different ways can you chase after the Final Girls and try to kill them?
The original Scream elevated itself by riffing on the genre and trying to do something new with the same old slasher formula. The sequels have struggled since, in one way or another, because they've all tried to riff on the franchise. What does it mean to be a sequel, a three-quel, a legacy sequel, a reboot? This film has to point out it's a sequel to a reboot and that no one can be trusted because all bets are off... except that's what we've been told in every film since the third one came out, and at this point the stratified rules of the franchise can't really be changed. We know who the heroes will be, who are the likely killers, and very rarely does the series find a way to do anything new or different with the material.
Yes, it's true that Sam is the daughter of Billy Loomis, and she has a little of his murderous rage within her. She struggles with that, and that's the underlined character development for her this film (Tara, meanwhile, gets no character development of any meaningful kind, going through basically the same story with Sam she had in the previous film). I like the idea that Sam might be a killer in the making, but the film hardly knows how to deal with that, especially when it's all a red herring to keep attention away from the real killers. Or it would be, except everything about the killers is pretty strongly telegraphed (at least if you're a fan of the series). I could tell who the likely suspects were from the outset, and even guessed one of the only major twists (that I won't spoil) this film was able to come up with. I've seen enough of this series that I know how it goes.
And that's why I'm sad that the opening kill, the one where the killer actually reveals himself, wasn't followed as the plot of the story. The film had a different tale it wanted to tell, and sure, that's fine. But it wasted this great twist right at the outset when, maybe, it should have been saved for a different film, one that could have followed this thread and truly given us a different perspective on the series. We know the killer, and even when they put on the Ghostface mask, we know what they want. That could have led to very different character development for the villain, seeing their true motives and why they're doing what they do. That's a Scream I wanted to see. That's not this film.
Scream VI is a perfectly enjoyable riff on the Scream formula. It does have really solid kill sequences, a lot of gore, and some funny interactions with the characters. It has all the hallmarks of this franchise and will likely delight anyone primed to see yet another Scream. It's not a bad film, by any measure, and it does good work in keeping the series going for one more film.
And yet, it could have been something truly new. That's what I lament. For a few brief moments I was promised a truly new film... only for that promise to fizzle away. Maybe next time, Scream series. Just, please, whatever you do, don't call it Sc7eam or ScreaIVII or whatever other nonsense you come up with.