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‘Scream VI’s Sam Carpenter Isn’t ‘The New Sidney,’ and She Doesn’t Need To Be

Watch out Ghostface, you've got more than one final girl on your hands.

Melissa Barrera (“Sam Carpenter”) stars in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group's "Scream VI."

To say Sam Carpenter got a frosty reception from fans when the credits rolled on Scream 5 would be an understatement. Granted, the film itself received across-the-board praise—a remarkably successful entry in a franchise that had lost a crucial element following the death of Wes Craven in 2015. But while many were quick to celebrate Scream 5 as yet another successful entry in a beloved horror franchise, its leading lady, Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), didn’t get the same praise. Though playing followup (or, rather, second fiddle) to Neve Campbell’s iconic Sidney Prescott is a tall order for anyone, Barrera’s performance and the character’s writing left fans sour when it came to the “new face” of the franchise.

Pressure only mounted when news broke that Neve Campbell wouldn’t be returning for Scream VI—a dramatic break from tradition that marked a first for the franchise. Though Courtney Cox’s Gale Weathers would still return, already skeptical fans who doubted the prowess of Sam Carpenter as a leading lady doubled down on their disbelief once it was confirmed that Sidney would be absent entirely—placing the weight of the franchise on Sam’s shoulders.

But once Scream VI hit theaters, any doubters of Sam’s ability to lead a Scream movie were quickly silenced—across the board, any way you look at it, Sam Carpenter kicks major ass. Embracing her wild side, acknowledging her violent tendencies, and going to war for the people she loves all turn the once-stale heroine into a fearsome protector and cunning survivor, a worthy successor (but not replacement or clone!) to Sidney Prescott.

It’s difficult to pin down what exactly about Sam changes between Screams 5 and 6 that turns Sam from forgettable to iconic and beloved on Twitter, but where the character on the page may not be all that different, it’s undeniable that Barrera’s performance in Scream VI is one of the driving factors in making Sam such a great protagonist. Where she was stoic and admittedly not very animated with her Scream 5 performance, Barrera plays the new movie’s Sam as a much more wild, ferocious, and unapologetically protective person. Sam is haggard and wary from Richie’s betrayal in Woodsboro and isn’t interested in playing games when it comes to not necessarily her own safety, but that of the people she loves.

It’s that selflessness—and that willingness to embrace the violent tendencies that are quite literally in her blood—that makes Sam such a compelling character to follow across Scream VI. Much like Sidney in the first few Scream sequels, public opinion has turned on Sam, forcing her into a more suspicious, protective state than she already is, and hardening her to others in the process. Sam is nearly prickly in her interactions with people she doesn’t know: though she tries to be understanding and open when people ask (like the initially well-meaning therapist she’s seeing at the beginning of the film), the horror and the violence that seem to follow her around inevitably drive outsiders away, thus forcing Sam to go on the defensive.

That’s what’s so painfully relatable about Sam: She wants to live a normal, Ghostface-free life just like Tara does, but she also acknowledges that she might not ever be truly safe—and she’ll damn well be ready if someone tries to come for her. Though public opinion seems to be split on the whole “Billy Loomis’ ghost appearing to Sam in her head” shtick, it’s undeniably electric when Sam takes center stage in the third act and goes to town on Ghostface. While her turn in Scream 5 may not have been all that well received, her final confrontation with Richie was undeniably brutal and impressive—the first real taste of the Sam fans would come to love.

The Sam of Scream VI almost feels more in the vein of Aliens’ Ripley—down to the grey tank top and the protectiveness over a younger girl, Sam has a survivalist, almost military efficiency to her fighting and survival tactics that make her a thrill in action sequences. Though we’ve long since moved past the running, sobbing final girls of old, Sam’s active role in many of the film’s fights brings a pulse-pounding energy that feels fresh to the franchise. We’re not just rooting for Sam to survive; we’re rooting for her to win—and possibly spill some blood of her own.

It feels symbolically accurate that we see Sam don the ghostface mask and use the voice changer herself—in another world, there’s absolutely an avenue for this character to become a brutal, no-nonsnese Ghostface killer. But there’s a compassion, humanity, and protectiveness to Sam that also gives her a softer side, making for a surprisingly wholesome and endearing horror survivor when it comes to her relationship with Tara.

And while comparisons to the earlier films (particularly, pitting the “Core Four” against the original trio) feel tired and pointless in the grand scheme of things, it’s worth acknowledging the comparisons some fans are already making between Sam and Sidney—debating which is a better heroine for the franchise, or if Sam is the “New Sidney” if Campbell doesn’t return to the series. But the entire question of which character is “better” defeats the point of celebrating their individual strengths. Both characters can co-exist as Scream leads while both being memorable for their differences, not just their similarities.

With Scream 7 greenlit and (hopefully) heading into production later this year, only time will tell how the last installment of the current trilogy approaches Sidney’s legacy and Sam’s newfound role in the franchise. Would Sam be more than capable of carrying Scream 7 solo if Campbell opts not to return? Absolutely, and Scream VI has proven that audiences are more than happy to watch her grab a Bowie knife and go to town when the time comes. But there’s also an (incredibly wishful) version of Scream 7 that sees Sidney and Sam team up once again to bring the latest chapter of the Ghostface saga to a close.

(featured image: Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media)

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Lauren Coates (she/her)is a freelance film/tv critic and entertainment journalist, who has been working in digital media since 2019. In addition to her writing at The Mary Sue, her other bylines include Nerdist, Paste, The A.V. Club, and The Playlist. In addition to all things sci-fi and horror, she has particular interest in queer and female-led stories. When she's not writing, she's exploring Chicago, binge-watching Star Trek, or planning her next trip to the Disney parks. You can follow her on twitter @laurenjcoates.