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Scream VI (2023): Film Review

Thanks to a unique story, setting, brutal kills, and a brilliant performance from Melissa Barrera, Scream VI is the franchise’s greatest sequel.

“Ghostface in New York City” is a pretty solid pitch for a film, but Scream VI (2023) offers audiences so much more than an iconic killer in a new location. Most importantly, it is a worthy continuation of this legendary film series. Had Scream (2022) marked the end of my favorite horror franchise ever made, it would have been a rather satisfying ending. The fifth entry served as a stupendous tribute to the characters and world built by Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson. It also introduced compelling new characters like Samantha “Sam” Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) and her younger half-sister Tara (Jenna Ortega), who fit perfectly and had satisfying arcs of their own. However, there was part of me that could not deny that the fifth film could also mark the start of a new trilogy, which I would never have been opposed to. In my mind, there were plenty of directions that this story could go and so much to draw from.

With the massive box office success of the fifth Scream film, of course Paramount Pictures greenlit a sequel. That sent my brain into overdrive and as more began to come out, my excitement for Scream VI only increased. Then came the shocking announcement that Neve Campbell would not be returning as Sidney Prescott and while I do not agree with the reported reason why that is the case and would have loved to have the face of this franchise return, I also did some thinking.

I thought about how Scream (2022) ended, specifically Sidney’s last exchange with Sam, and then just how much the character of Sidney Prescott had been through up to this point. That last conversation that Sidney has with Sam, at least to me, established that going forward, these films would not be Sidney’s story, but Sam’s. There is also the fact that Sidney deserved to be happy, living with her kids and husband, Mark Kincaid (Patrick Dempsey).

Scream as a franchise also did not need to devolve into a sort of “Save The Babies” narrative, that is not what this series is in the slightest. It is a whodunit slasher and satire of film/horror, the last thing we need is Ghostface chasing after little kids. After considering those factors, I was much less upset, and intrigued by what Scream VI could be.

The end result is better than I could have dreamed it would be, with Scream VI easily establishing itself as the best Scream sequel ever and a standout of the slasher genre. I went in with higher expectations than most and it is so satisfying to have this film live up to them.

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Courteney Cox (“Gale Weathers”) stars in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group’s “Scream VI.” (© 2023 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.)

Scream VI sees the survivors of the Ghostface attacks depicted in Scream (2022), sisters Samantha “Sam” Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) and Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega), along with the twins, Chad and Mindy Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown), leave Woodsboro behind to start new lives in New York City. Their fresh start is soon derailed by the emergence of a new Ghostface killer in The City That Never Sleeps.

After honoring what came before, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, along with writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, get to truly put their own stamp on this franchise. In Scream VI, they take off running from the jump and never let up. This story, even if the third act reaches bonkers levels that the franchise has not seen, is as heartfelt as a slasher story could be. It touches on several things in addition to the timely commentary on film and the current state of horror.

At its core, this is a sister story between Sam and Tara, one that sees the pair deal with the impact that the events of the previous film had on them, and how they are attempting to move forward. As they will quickly learn though, moving on is not easy, particularly when another psycho begins to hunt them in New York City. The Carpenters and their story help to set Scream VI apart from every Scream sequel to date. Sam gets plenty of character development and it is such a treat to watch.

Any fan skeptical of Sam Carpenter’s ability to be a lead and great final girl will surely have their jaws dropped. Melissa Barrera gives one of the best performances in the history of the Scream franchise. She shows off her emotional range with ease and is such a force. Something I have said over and over is that it is not enough to just have an exceptional story, you must have the performances to match. Barrera’s work as Sam elevates the narrative and helps take this character to new places and develop her.

The overall narrative is an edge of your seat whodunit slasher and one that will keep you guessing every step of the way. Just when you think you might have cracked it, writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick will throw something else at you to get your head spinning again.  The third act may get a little too wild for you, but personally, I ate every single minute up, and thought it was better compared to the final half of Scream (2022), which had its standout moments but was not completely unique.

This story makes creative use of the New York City setting (something that extends to the kills) and of the history of the franchise. There are also some good comedic moments that help relieve the tension. Scream VI had to do something different narratively to really set itself apart from the sequels that preceded it and by putting the focus primarily on Sam and Tara and taking them to such a unique location, this story succeeds.

Jenna Ortega’s star continues to rise and her work in Scream VI is a highlight. She constantly commands the screen as Tara Carpenter and her chemistry with Melissa Barrera’s Sam is on point for the entire duration of the film. I honestly do not think you could ask for a better pair of leads in a Scream film that does not involve Neve Campbell. The bond that Ortega and Barrera clearly have makes this story primarily focused on the Carpenter sisters and their relationship so much sweeter to watch.

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Melissa Barrera (“Sam Carpenter”), left, and Jenna Ortega (“Tara Carpenter”) stars in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group’s “Scream VI.” (© 2023 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.)

Of course, it is not all about the Carpenter sisters, the narrative also makes plenty of time for Chad and Mindy Meeks-Martin, who have standout moments. Gooding really takes Chad beyond his macho tough guy act in Scream VI and we get to know the character better. He is so likable, funny, and badass when he needs to be.

The core four of Sam, Tara, Chad, and Mindy really cement themselves as worthy successors to the original trio of Sidney Prescott, Dewey Riley, and Gale Weathers. A large portion of this story that does not focus on Sam and Tara centers on the friends, and you really get a good look at their overall friendship and love for each other. Said love is likely to be contagious, and you will be rooting for all of them to survive. You will also have genuine concern as to whether they will wind up making it through Scream VI because of the various nerve-wracking situations they find themselves in.

Speaking of survivors, the return of Hayden Panettiere to the role of fan favorite Kirby Reed from Scream 4 (2011) is fantastic. As much as I loved Kirby, I had my doubts about how she would fit into this story, but the writers work her into Scream VI naturally. Panettiere clearly has a great deal of love for her character and the franchise, and you will see a lot of that come through in her performance.

Courteney Cox, as always, is superb as Gale Weathers, and carries the weight of being an original trio member in a sea of new characters easily. I love that the writers gave Gale moments in this film that she has not had in the series to date. There is one particular development with Gale that I did not love, but I cannot get into it here without diving into spoiler territory. That development does lead to one of my favorite moments of the entire film, so it is a bit of a lose/win situation.

You get a fair bit of clever commentary on the state of film and horror in Scream VI. That is of course a staple of the series to date and if it is lackluster, you would have a big problem. James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick take aim at a number of topics this time around, most notably though the character of Mindy Meeks-Martin.

The most important thing that this story does is that it moves our characters forward in a pleasing way and really delvops them to the point where you will want to see what happens next with them. Not only that, but the narrative leaves them in interesting places for a potential follow-up to touch on.

However, much like with Scream (2022), the story is pretty self-contained and could act as a satisfying conclusion to the franchise if needed, and I love that. The conclusion with Sam Carpenter was enough to drive me to tears as a huge fan of the character. If you know anything about me, it is not easy to get me to cry while watching a film. So, if you manage to accomplish that feat, you have likely got something special on your hands.

Scream VI: Trailer (Paramount Pictures)

Now, it is time to dive into the slasher/horror elements of Scream VI, because I cannot leave those out. This film does a much better job of using New York City than Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989). The writers make use of the city in ways that I did not see coming and it leads to some of the most insanely brutal kills in the series to date. There is a lot of tension throughout, so much so that you may find yourself anticipating something bad happening only to find that it does not. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett up the gore without completely overdoing it. Seriously, some of the deaths in Scream VI are downright gruesome and chilling, but they seem to know when to draw the line.

Scream VI stands out in every way from the other Scream sequels that came before it. This film is darker, with kills that will send chills up your spine, and it has such a unique story compared to everything that followed the original Scream in 1996. Melissa Barrera is incredible as Sam Carpenter, and she cements the character’s status as one of the best final girls in recent horror history. The usual commentary and comedy you have come to expect from the Scream franchise remains in top form, the supporting cast is tremendous, and all these elements combine to make Scream VI the closest thing to the original film that we will probably ever get.

Scream VI will be released in theaters everywhere on Friday, March 10, 2023.

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