A Background and Review of ‘Scream VI’ (2023)

[This review may contain spoilers]

Julia Alvarado, Freelance Writer

When it comes to horror movies, the audience is usually split up into two sections—those familiar with the genre, and those who are decidedly less familiar with it. There are some crossover films that are familiar no matter who you are—but at the end of the day, there are some things that are widely beloved and discussed by one side that are completely unknown to the other. The “Scream” series has not been one of those things.

The first “Scream” film made an immediate splash when it was released in 1996. It entered the world of horror cinema after about a decade of movies that were either sequels, or lazy copies of the big three franchises of the time—”Halloween”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, and “Friday the 13th”. Those films also have their place in the mainstream media. SNL skits, references on “Family Guy” and “South Park”, interviews with talk-show hosts—Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers were the faces of horror from the late ‘70s through the ‘80s. They were iconic—borderline beloved—even beyond the world of horror, and remain recognizable even decades later. However, there comes a time with any sort of media where the audience is too familiar with the formula, too used to the same story beats and plotlines, and what once was surprising and clever becomes tired and cliche. “Scream” (1996) took all that frustration and boredom and channeled it into a movie that was modern, witty, gory, and most importantly, fresh. 

Directed by Wes Craven years after the success of the “Nightmare On Elm Street ” series, “Scream” had a director who was about as familiar with horror fans as you can get. Craven would stick with the series for the rest of his life, and thanks in large part to his brilliant direction, “Scream” is undoubtedly one of the strongest horror franchises, with each movie reflecting on the state of the genre with meta-humor and insightful commentary. But, as tends to be the case with movie franchises, the “Scream” movies dropped in quality with each new film. After the fourth film came out in 2011 and director Craven passed away a few years later, it seemed unlikely that the series would ever be able to go back to what it once was. That is until 2022 when the fifth film would release into theaters and breathe life back into a beloved series.

This “requel”, officially titled “Scream”—but also referred to as “Scream 5” to avoid confusion with the original film—was directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who co-founded the film production company, Radio Silence Productions, with friends Justin Martinez and Chad Villella. “Scream” (2022) had a budget of $24 million and made nearly $140 million at the box office. While the films had always maintained a loyal fanbase that helped them keep a consistently high profit, “Scream” (2022) sparked fresh enthusiasm for the series that allowed Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett to release “Scream VI” just a year later. “Scream VI” immediately topped the box office, earning $44.5 million in its opening weekend, surpassing the $34.7 million made by “Scream 3” back in 2000. Bringing back Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega from “Scream” (2022) as Tara and Samantha Carpenter, and a returning Courtney Cox as Gale Weathers, “Scream VI” brings Ghostface to New York and brings the audience a $35 million film full of gore, horror references, suspenseful scenes, and polished cinematography. Though the plot is familiar—a classic “who-dunnit”, where everyone’s a suspect and no one is safe—the setting is brand new and the gritty streets of New York provide an interesting stage for the story to play out on.

The movie hits some of the same plot beats that have become so synonymous with the series, but takes a slightly subtler approach when it comes to the series’ ever-iconic meta commentary. There’s a short scene where Randy Meeks’ niece and spiritual successor, Mindy Meeks-Martin—played by Jasmin Savoy Brown—discusses the different rules of franchises. But there’s something almost obligatory about it. It feels slightly out of place in a film that seems to take a step back from the self-aware discussions on horror’s current affairs. Perhaps the lack of reflection is in itself a reflection of the genre’s changing priorities. Meta-humor is more predictable, falling out of style, and the movie chooses to assign most of the commentary to Mindy—who is perhaps the closest thing the film has to a comic relief.

Though the movie is as witty and clever as you’d expect a “Scream” film to be, it’s also quite a bit darker. Spending more time on tense, suspenseful scenes that leave audiences at the very edge of their seats, and treating viewers to plenty of gruesome and gory scenes. It’s an excellent blend of the films that came before. Though series final girl Sidney Prescott doesn’t make an appearance, Neve Campbell’s absence doesn’t hang over the movie for long. The film has a clear desire to shift the focus of the series onto its new group of characters—who dub themselves the “Core Four”—which is a divisive and complex choice for any franchise, but one “Scream VI” seems to take in stride. It’s this reviewer’s humble opinion that the Carpenter sisters and the Meeks-Martin twins only become more likable as the movie progresses, reflecting the most recent film quite well. The new characters, as well as the slight step away from the usual formula and aesthetic of the series make for an addition that manages to perfectly capture the evolution of the Scream franchise.

I’m pleased to say that “Scream VI” is a solid ⅘ paws that leaves me cautiously optimistic for the future of both the series, and the future of horror cinema as a whole.