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‘Scream VI’ Review: Ghostface Takes Manhattan

Ghostface in Scream VI.

Barely a year after Scream (that is, the fifth entry in the franchise) hit theaters in 2022, the meta horror franchise has returned for the second installment in its latest trilogy: Scream VI. Where the previous film saw Gale, Dewey, and Sid return to Woodsboro once again, Scream VI moves an entirely new direction—not only does it leave Woodsboro behind in favor of New York City, but it’s also the first entry in the series not to feature Neve Campbell’s enduring Sidney Prescott.

But even without Sidney at its center, Scream VI is a funny, brutal franchise entry that uses a strong new ensemble and a pair of familiar faces to craft yet another Ghostface-led winner. Starring Jenna Ortega and Melissa Barrera, Scream VI follows Sisters Tara (Ortega) and Sam (Barrera) Carpenter as they adjust to life in New York City, an attempt to put the harrowing ordeal of the last film behind them.

Ghostface, however, isn’t ready to leave the Carpenter sisters alone quite yet, and soon they once again find themselves (alongside twins Mindy and Chad Meeks-Martin, both of whom survived the last film) being menaced by the Ghostface killer. Luckily, though, they’re not alone—Scream 4 fan-favorite Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) and franchise mainstay Gale (Courtney Cox) both return to help track down the killer.

Structurally, Scream VI follows the now-familiar formula and doesn’t make many departures (if it ain’t broke, etc.), and that adherence to formula, of course, includes the now-iconic opening kill. Though anyone paying attention to the marketing/posters will likely be able to guess which new cast member gets the honor of being first blood, the opening sequence still manages to be a surprising, unexpected take on the classic convention.

As with all the Screams that came before, Scream VI introduces a new gaggle of characters to be picked off and/or eventually revealed as Ghostface killers, and this crop includes Laura (Samara Weaving), Quinn (Liana Liberato), Jason (Tony Revolori), Anika (Devyn Nekoda), Danny (Josh Segarra), Detective Bailey (Dermot Mulroney), and Ethan (Jack Champion). Admittedly, it’s a lot of new faces, especially when the audience has been trained to be suspicious and any/all new characters as potential Ghostfaces. Unfortunately, most of the new ensemble members don’t serve as much more than creative outlets for kills, though Nekoda’s Quinn makes an endearing love interest for Mindy, and Segarra’s Danny is an interesting addition whose relationship with Sam makes him more memorable.

Without question, though, it’s the returning Woodsboro characters (which this film dubs the “Core Four”) that really make Scream VI worth the watch. The franchise recognizes that it’s struck gold with this quartet of young talent and puts them to ample use for the sequel. Though her arc in the last film felt frustratingly hinged around her (spoiler alert) familial connection to OG scream killer Billy Loomis, Sam finally gets the chance to shine on her own two feet in Scream VI, and shine she does.

There’s nobody who could ever truly replace Sidney Prescott (and why would you want to?), but with Campbell’s absence, it’s clear that the Scream franchise needs a new leading lady, and Scream VI cements Sam in that role. While I’ll admit I wasn’t particularly taken with her in Scream, Sam Carpenter is without question the MVP of Scream VI: Her pragmatic attitude and willingness (if not eagerness) to fight back against Ghostface makes her a compelling protagonist, especially when she’s given the chance to turn the tables and get in a few licks of her own.

Melissa Barrera (“Sam Carpenter”), left, and Jenna Ortega (“Tara Carpenter”) stars in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group's "Scream VI."
Melissa Barrera (“Sam Carpenter”), left, and Jenna Ortega (“Tara Carpenter”) stars in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group’s “Scream VI.”

The Meeks-Martin twins are also undeniable scene stealers Though by now I’ve grown accustomed to being wary of romances in this franchise, the Mindy/Anika relationship is a sweet, believable one, and Jasmin Savoy Brown makes the most of this new facet to Mindy, delivering more than a few heartbreaking and memorable scenes. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Mason Gooding’s Chad, a character who can be summed up with the word “himbo,” but who delivers a number of the film’s funniest moments. Though he may not have all that much depth to him, his charm and loyalty make him a welcome presence, especially in terms of the unique brother/sister bond he and Mindy bring to the table.

Rounding out the cast are the film’s only two real legacy characters (as pointed out by Mindy herself): Gale Weathers and Kirby Reed. Though I’ll never say “no” to more Gale, it almost feels as if her presence in the film is an afterthought—she’s not particularly involved in the mystery in a significant capacity and ends up feeling more like wasted potential than anything else. Especially with Sidney so noticeably absent, one can’t help but wonder why Gale got to stick around if they weren’t going to give her all that much to do.

Hayden Panettiere (“Kirby Reed”) stars in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group’s “Scream VI.”

A returnee who does shine, though, is Panetierre’s Kirby—a movie-loving Randy Meeks type who barely survived the events of Scream 4 and is now working as an FBI agent following the resurgence of Ghostface killings. Panetierre slides seamlessly back into the role of Kirby, and while Gale feels frustratingly isolated, Kirby blends remarkably well with the Woodsboro Core Four—her interactions with Sam and Mindy are particularly memorable.

As for the killer reveal itself (which, of course, I won’t spoil here), I’d put Scream VI squarely in the middle of the pack—the Ghostface of this film sets a franchise record in one capacity, although their motive and backstory isn’t much beyond what we’ve seen in previous films. It’s difficult to discuss Ghostface and their victims without diving into spoiler territory, but there is a curious holdover from Scream 5 that highlights the tonal/directorial differences between a Radio Silence-produced Scream film and a Craven-produced Scream. There’s a lack of killer instinct (no pun intended) to Scream VI that makes the ending feel a little lacking in impact and a little too neat and tidy—though admittedly, there’s still one more film in the trilogy, so it’s possible they’re saving the most devastating for last.

But even with an ending a little too squeaky-clean for a franchise this blood-soaked, Scream VI is yet another undeniably strong entry for a franchise that just doesn’t seem to know how to make a bad movie. With standout performances from Barrera and Savoy Brown, as well as the welcome return of Hayden Panettiere, Scream VI is a bloody good time at the movies—boasting one of the franchise’s wittiest scripts yet.

(featured images: Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group)

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Lauren Coates is a Chicago-based film & television critic and freelance journalist who works as a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. You can find her on Twitter @laurenjcoates and read more of her work on Culturess.