This Scream 6 article contains spoilers.
Scream 6 has a killer opening sequence. Right from the jump, this slasher saga changes formula for the second time in a row under Radio Silence’s stewardship. In 2022, this meant “opening kill” victim Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) getting to live despite being stabbed a horrifying seven times (a twist that audiences and Paramount marketers are no doubt even more thankful about now).
In the 2023 iteration, filmmakers pivot the game again by staging an effective murder sequence that plays like a fiddle on the fears of any single person who’s used a dating app in the big city. Poor Laura (Samara Weaving) is a film studies professor who specializes in slasher movies, but when her adorkable Tinder date lures her from the safety of an anonymous cocktail bar into a barren alleyway, she learns her final lesson in the genre.
It’s brutal yet almost perfunctory. Young blonde woman gets skewered at the beginning of a Scream movie. Yet herein lies the twist: We discover the identity of her murderer from the start, watching as Jason (the perennially underused Tony Revolori) goes home, washes his knife, and admits to an accomplice over the phone that he’s a sad film student loser who’s copying the killers from the last movie. Worse, he picked his professor to die because she gave him a C-. Unfortunately for Jason, he isn’t actually speaking to his accomplice. Instead of one or two killers, Scream 6 will wind up having close to half a dozen, with the one on the phone gutting this loser and his buddy like its lamb chop night at the Starling farm.
It’s a subversion of what came before, including last year, and signals Scream 6 will keep you on your toes while keeping things fresh.
Which it more or less does, weaving a satisfyingly twisty (if thematically less-than-pointed) plot around some shockingly savage slasher set pieces. Nonetheless, even screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, along with directors Matt Betinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, cannot resist confessing how the sausage gets made. In the case of this film, that means another amusing monologue by Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown) channeling her inner Jamie Kennedy. Brown was good in Scream 5 but like the rest of the Core Four™ (as they begin calling themselves here), she ups her game in Scream 6. In Mindy’s case that means explaining the pressures on talent to extend a movie franchise in perpetuity.
“No one makes just sequels anymore, you have to maintain a franchise!” Mindy exclaims in the quad to friends and the audience. In previous “Stab” (read: Scream) movies, the returning characters were the most important thing to keep the story going. The term “legacy sequel” was even coined around this idea. But at a certain point, Mindy argues, legacy characters become just more fodder to keep the intellectual property relevant. Laurie Strode, Ellen Ripley, even Luke Skywalker died onscreen, but their sagas stayed trucking. There is an obvious irony about this in a Scream movie without Sidney Prescott, although the characters at least graciously state that they’re not involving Sid this time so she can have her happy ending. For now.
Even so, Mindy’s state of the franchise address still puts a few things on the table: To work, she insists, you have to subvert what audiences expect and break all the old formula rules that used to excite fans back in the ‘90s (when Scream itself was subverting ‘80s slashers). Innovation is thus about making the same thing but in a slightly shocking context.
Scream 6 does this very well. The set pieces that utilize NYC are superb: Weaving’s death, Ghostface with a shotgun in a bodega, and the much marketed subway scene. It also provides a backdrop to genuinely deepen the dynamics between the Core Four—seriously, Ortega has a bright future as a scream queen or in any other genre as indicated by just how much texture she brings to being terrified and at her wit’s end.
The movie even managed to trick me. I was dead certain that Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) was the killer. She gave a golf clap to Roman doing his murderin’ alone back in Scream 3 and said she was tracking Revolori’s maniac, yet somehow didn’t know about his pricy Ghostface shrine. Sketch. Plus, Mindy didn’t mention legacy characters could be the killer. But apparently they can’t. For now.
Instead the big reveal is that rather than one Ghostface, or even two, there are three. Also as a shock, their motive feels like something out of 4chan’s grotesque fever dreams: They’re the family of Ritchie (Jack Quaid’s psycho killer from the last movie) and they want revenge on Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) for killing their precious boy—and they started it by spreading QAnon lies about her.
It got me. Expectations were subverted and it led to a pretty gratifying applause line when Ortega kills Ritchie’s young brother and hisses, “Now fucking die a virgin.” It’s a bigger spectacle than the ending of the last several Scream movies. But I’m not convinced it’s better.
The twist of the last movie where Ritchie and Amber (Mikey Madison) killed all these people because they wanted to rewrite the plot of their favorite franchise had a delicious, thinly veiled commentary about toxic fandom in a post-The Last Jedi world. The film before that, Scream 4, also worked as a cutting satire about influencer culture before that was a phrase, with Jill Roberts (played by Julia Roberts’ niece, Emma Roberts) doing it all to amass social media clout and play the victim. Prophetic.
Scream 6 returns a bit to the ‘90s Scream sequels’ more soapy plot lines. Once again, the last movie’s killer came from a nutter family that is carrying on his good work. It’s out of left field, almost unpredictable, and crazy enough to allow Sam to don her father’s costume and voice box. Finally, Ghostface gets to be the good guy. It’s subversive but could it be pushing the story to its breaking point?
The delicate magic of Scream movies is that they’re always self-analyzing and critiquing their own choices, aware the series is walking a knife’s edge between clever and smug, funny and self-parody. The last installment written by the first film’s mastermind, Kevin Williamson, was Scream 4, and that film even began by imagining how the movies-within-the-movies, the Stab franchise, descended into meta-masturbation by the time of Stab 7.
Six movies in, the actual Scream movies have avoided that fate. For now. New blood creatives Radio Silence even gave the series back its edge, with the set pieces of Scream 5 and especially 6 being the first genuinely tense ones since the second movie. But perhaps they’ve done their job too well for me. I don’t want to see the “Core Four” butchered anymore than Dewey and Gale. That of course could be the root of great horror, but Scream has gone there as well. Twice. Recall that before Dewey’s bittersweet death in Scream 5, Randy Meeks was also “core four” in Scream 2.
The new generation subverted that by not losing a soul of the Core Four, but now the subversion of the rule is the new rule. Confused, yet? It beggars the question how far you can take it before the series is finally just running in place. I suppose you can always make good on what both Radio Silence installments have previously teased: Barrera’s Sam becomes the killer. Yet after Scream 6 ends with her rejecting her father’s mask (for now), would going that direction just feed into what audiences expect? This movie even began with one new Ghostface killing another. If you keep going, eventually you might wind up with several hours of would-be killers getting killed like a nesting doll of opening kill scenes.
Commercially the series absolutely will continue, and Radio Silence seems keen on a Scream 7. In fact, screenwriters Vanderbilt and Busick previously teased this new era is its own trilogy. So they very well could have thought ahead how to subvert expectations again. Still, I can’t shake this suspicion: After this team gave Scream back its edge, creatively the next step might be to end it before the thing dulls.
Scream 6 is out in theaters now.