Updated: Apr 17
Since the trailer for Scream VI dropped, I (and other fans) have been jokingly referring to it as "Ghostface Takes Manhattan." After seeing the movie, and sleeping on my disappointment, I feel like the joke landed so hard that it's not funny anymore.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, there will be major spoilers in this review, so please proceed with caution. This is your one and only SPOILER WARNING.
For any of our horror nerds in the audience, you'll probably be all too familiar with the eighth installment of Friday the 13th: Jason Takes Manhattan. With a title like that and advertisements to match, fans were obviously disappointed when the movie we got was more like "Jason on a boat." He spends a little time in the toxic-sludge style depiction of New York, but the scenery felt under-utilized and the kill count remained surprisingly low for the amount of bystanders in the city around our slasher.
Going to Scream VI is the experience I always imagined I would have had at Friday the 13th Part 8.
The Scream trailer promised us a lot of things. We saw Ghostface using a shotgun in a bodega. We saw him stalking our beloved cast on the subway. We were promised that this was a new Ghostface, something we hadn't ever seen before.
Some fans speculated this meant the inclusion of a paranormal element, while others hoped for more of a Ghostface cult -- both understandable vibes from the bold teasers prior to release. I want to go on record saying that I was dreading either of those options until I saw what was actually in store; more of the same, but worse.
There were only really three scenes that properly utilized New York as a setting -- two of which we had already seen in the trailer. Both of them seemed exciting and fresh when clipped down, but one of the film's biggest weaknesses was building suspense. The chase scenes largely felt drawn out to the point that tension was sacrificed and what little was left was dampened by the refusal to kill any recurring characters.
Something that truly impressed me when Radio Silence took over the franchise in Scream V was that they were willing to kill one of their legacy characters; Dewey. To go from that to an unwillingness to kill any characters at all, really hurt.
This is not to say that there is no body count whatsoever. But there are more fake-outs than actual victims. Depending on how you do the math, more Ghostfaces die than just about anyone else. (Seriously. There are five Ghostfaces that die in this movie in comparison to Mindy's girlfriend, Gale's new hottie, Samara Weaving, and nameless bodega people.) Gale, Quinn, Chad, and Kirby are all presumed dead at least once. Even when Mindy is injured, there's a call almost immediately to confirm that she's gotten medical attention and is okay.
Mindy can talk all she wants about no one being safe anymore, but it seems like virtually all the cast has plot armor now. Except for her girlfriend. And listen. I hate it when people complain about the "bury your gays" trope in horror, where everyone is at risk of getting buried. But when you're bringing back everyone from the dead except for the token lesbian's girlfriend, that does look a little suspicious, even to me.
For a franchise that has always relied on meta commentary, Scream VI seems to have lost its knack for doing that without spelling everything out. Constant call-outs to the references and tropes they were making were getting explained to the audience, and in combination with the other moments of fanservice, it felt overwhelming. It felt like it was relying on the commentary so that it didn't have to make us laugh. Just as it was relying on the endless plot twists instead of trying to scare us.
I always do my best to turn off my critic brain when watching movies so that I enjoy them more, rather than trying to figure out the end. Even I saw the killers coming from a mile away, and with little else subverting my expectations, I was left largely bored.
One compliment that I've seen floating around is about how brutal this sequel was. But was it? Scream VI relies heavily on the good old stab-and-twist which was fresh and excruciating in V, but felt far less innovative over and over in this installation. Even if it had been bloodier or more violent, I think audiences were set up for disappointment by how extreme the trailer looked in comparison to the drawn out and slow-moving film we got.
While I'm alienating myself from other Scream fans anyway, I have one more thing to get off my chest. I hate Kirby. I hate her.
I remember when I was in middle school and Scream IV came out, and Kirby was my idol. She dressed cool, she acted cool, and we had a lot of the same interests. She was the first girl I'd ever seen in a horror movie who got to be a horror nerd and I loved her so much. In subsequent viewings of Scream IV as an adult, that adoration of her has not held up. She's a little mean, a little shallow, and she cares a lot about what people think for someone who pretends she doesn't. It's okay for a character to have flaws, but I struggle to remember what strengths I ever saw in her. She isn't as three dimensional as other surviving characters and isn't given enough screen time for an arc. Her one thing is that she likes scary movies, but when it's her time for the life or death horror trivia, she gets smug somehow about... not utilizing that skill at all and just shouting random titles like it's a "gotcha" against Ghostface.
Scream VI brought her back (and suddenly made her my age? Which she was not previously?) which I could have done without. It felt like more fanservice. I hoped it would at least be an opportunity to flesh out her character, but of course it wasn't. This movie was all about moving from the legacy cast to the new core team, so of course we weren't going to get more character development for her. She got to be a red herring for about five minutes, and questioned about how she moved on from the attack (which I found laugh-out-loud-funny considering her one trait in this installation is being obsessed with Ghostface killings.)
Now, I don't hate everything about this movie.
Credit where credit is due, I think the cast had better chemistry in Scream VI than it did in Scream V. Jenna Ortega matched everyone else's energy (whereas in Scream V I felt like she surpassed everyone in realism to an almost distracting degree.) The dynamics felt more substantial. Sam and Tara both had character growth in the form of self-contained arcs that showed they're growing as people over the course of these horrendous events.
It also played with a couple interesting themes of conspiracy theories and the impact that these repeated impersonators are having on the world at large. I wish they had dived deeper into those instead of explaining yet another family impacted by the actions of a killer (that came from that same family, nonetheless.)
All in all, this one left a lot to be desired for me. The trailer promised more than it ever intended to deliver and severely damaged my enjoyment of the film. (This is why I largely try to avoid movie trailers these days.) Even putting aside those disappointments with this installation, this felt more like a plea to come see Scream VII than it felt like a full slasher in its own rite.
I have so much respect for the team behind this movie, and their other work, but this one felt like a small swing and a huge miss.
Check out the You Run Podcast review here
Watch the YouTube video from our friends at Horror Fiend TV!