By Ben Reed, Arts + Culture Editor
The slasher subgenre of horror films is one that is filled with nostalgia for many movie lovers. Classics include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street, among countless others that have spawned their own franchises. While remakes of these landmark flicks have become a common trend in Hollywood, many believe that the glory days of the slasher genre are behind us. Enter the Scream franchise, one of the most commercially successful whodunit horror movie franchises in the business. Starting in 1996 with its inaugural Scream, the six-film franchise has spanned a generation, maintaining its success across its installments. Spearheaded by the trio of Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courtney Cox, the original film follows Sidney Prescott (Campbell), who is plagued by a mask-clad figure by the name of Ghostface during the one-year anniversary of her mother’s death. She is aided by Deputy Officer Dewey Riley (Arquette) and news reporter Gale Weathers (Cox). Unlike other slasher franchises, the main protagonist’s identity changes in each of the films, while Michael Myers’s character stays the same across the entire Halloween franchise, for example. Ghostface’s identity is merely a coverup for the protagonist of each Scream film to carry out their plans, with the climax of each film revealing who the killer is among the ensemble cast.
The fifth installment, Scream (2022) saw new principal characters, Sam & Tara Carpenter (played by Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega, respectively) and Chad and Mindy Meeks-Martin (played by Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown, respectively) introduced to the franchise. Scream VI (2023), the newest installment of the franchise, follows the characters as they navigate a new Ghostface killer in the streets of New York City following the events of the last film. This is the first film in the franchise to not feature Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott due to complications with her contract not being a large enough offer for her return.
As a huge Scream fan myself, I was not disappointed in the slightest with this movie on the first watch. This is the first installment of the franchise to not take place in the fictional town of Woodsboro, California, and instead takes place in New York City, which adds a new layer of intensity to it. A city of a million people, and a serial killer among all of them. As with every Scream movie, the whodunit element adds a sense of fun and involvement from the audience as we try to decipher who the killer is among the cast. The story offers a lot of depth for the franchises’ new principal characters, who begin to call themselves the “Core Four.” Following the events of the fifth film, Scream VI sees its leading sisters working through (or not working through) the trauma of the past Ghostface killings, and how their relationship can navigate a new chapter in their lives. In light of Sidney Prescott not making an appearance in this movie, I feel as though this makes for a smooth transition of focus away from her and onto the new characters. This new core ensemble shows promise for future development in the franchise, and leads me to believe that if Campbell does not return to the screen in another Scream installment, the franchise has been left in good hands. Sam’s character arc as a descendant of the original Ghostface killer (who I won’t name for those who haven’t seen any of the Scream movies yet) is further expanded upon in this movie, and will be a plot point in future installments as she grapples with the complexities of being in the bloodline of an infamous killer who inspired the franchise’s subsequent killing sprees.
In terms of performances, our new core ensemble of Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy-Brown hold their own without Campbell present to take the reins of the movie. Ortega, who also starred in Netflix’s Wednesday and X solidifies her new status as a scream queen in as her character navigates the duality of being a young woman in her freshman year of college while battling a masked serial killer. The screenplay of the movie is strong enough to offer the actors room to play around with the bigger roles they’ve been given, with support from Cox as the sole remaining cast member from the very beginning of the franchise. This film also sees the return of Hayden Panettiere as Kirby Reed, a survivor from the events of Scream 4, whose character returns as an FBI agent to aid the Core Four in their search and destruction of the new Ghostface killer. Her edgy humor is subtle as an adult, but fans of the franchise will notice her presence on screen as a fun harkening back to her time in Scream 4.
In short, Scream VI holds its own and then some in a family of slasher successes. The scares and plot add a darker tone and succeed in somewhat passing the torch from the original trio of characters to a new core ensemble. For fans of the Scream franchise reading this, I urge you to go see the film in theaters. The vibe of seeing it in a theater makes it more compelling for the horror movie fan. For anyone reading who hasn’t seen much of the Scream franchise, but is interested in pursuing this slasher flick, I urge you to watch the first five movies before heading to the theater; the plot of this installment weaves in elements of previous ones that can make them less effective if you haven’t watched the other movies first.