March 29, 2023

That newness includes our core four characters, each carried over from the previous entry. After staving off an attack by Stab fans determined to bring the movie-within-a-movie franchise back to basics, half-sisters Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) have left Woodsboro for New York City, where the latter wants to move on and enjoy the full college experience, and the former wants to keep things safe and quiet as possible. They’re joined by fellow survivors Mindy and Chad (Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding), children of Martha Meeks (Heather Mazzarello) and niece and nephew of franchise lore-keeper, the late Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy). 

The quartet forms a surprisingly strong bond, especially for characters we just met in the previous film. Even if the dialogue from screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick feels a bit perfunctory, the cast’s natural charisma carries the day. We accept that they would follow Tara across the country and understand why they get so protective of her, even as they try to eke out a life of their own. That’s particularly true of Sam, who is still dealing with the revelation that she’s the daughter of Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich), one of the original Ghostfaces from Scream 1996.

The interactions between the quartet provide so much tension and heart that the few other legacy characters from earlier Scream movies feel almost unnecessary. The New York setting gives Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) an easy excuse to show up when Ghostface strikes, but her flinty reporter schtick is wearing thin at this point, even if her grieving the death of Dewey Riley (David Arquette) provides an interesting wrinkle. More surprising is the return of Scream 4 standout Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere), who, as it turns out, survived the attack in her previous movie to become an FBI agent, gaining some maturity but losing the fiery attitude that made her a fan-favorite originally. (Original protagonist Sidney Prescott gets only a brief mention, as Neve Campbell passed on reprising her role.)

They are joined by the requisite new characters/suspects, including Samara Weaving (star of Radio Silence’s excellent Ready or Not) as a film professor, Tony Revolori as a rabid Stab fan, Josh Segura as Sam’s extremely supportive, but extremely secret, boyfriend, and Devyn Nekoda as Mindy’s girlfriend Anika. Rounding out the newbies are Avatar: The Way of Water standout Jack Champion as the Chad’s geeky roommate Ethan, Liana Liberato as the girls’ sex-positive roommate Quinn, and Dulmort Mulroney as Quinn’s detective father, whose own loss of another child makes him just as protective as Sam. 

As per the Scream formula, the movie gives us plenty of reason to suspect all of these characters, especially Sam, who continues to see visions of her dad Billy. Yet it’s a formula that largely still works, as Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett forgo mystery for full-on paranoia. There are no good clues to follow leading up to the killer’s reveal, no way to identify the person behind the Ghostface mask other than guessing. Instead the directors let the audience sit in our unknowing, aware only that Ghostface will strike at any moment, in any place. 

That approach is aided by the change in setting. While not the first Scream movie to leave Woodsboro, Scream 6 takes advantage of New York’s distinctive qualities to construct some standout sequences (and yes, if you are wondering, someone does watch Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan). In addition to the aforementioned subway sequence, we get Ghostface using angled mirrors in a bodega to find victims and characters watching attacks from nearby buildings. Every set piece reminds viewers that Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are among the best pure filmmakers in horror today. 

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