“What’s your favorite Scream movie?” For the longest time, my answer to this question varied depending on my mood. Was I feeling nostalgic for the late ’90s when I was first introduced to the franchise through the miracle of VHS? Then it would be the original Scream. Did I want a horror movie that satirized Hollywood’s endless need for sequels and featured a great comic performance by Parker Posey? Scream 3 did the trick. Each Scream movie offers its own distinct pleasures — Scream 4 had Hayden Panettiere’s acerbic Kirby and a brilliantly deranged Emma Roberts, Scream 2 had the goriest deaths — that answering that question was always an impossible pleasure.
The real answer, of course, is that all the Scream movies are my favorites. Unlike the other major horror franchises like Friday the 13th and Halloween, there isn’t a stinker in the bunch. When early reviews for Scream 6 started pouring in, it seemed the franchise’s spotless track record remained intact. The audience appears to like it too, with the movie set to become the most financially successful of the series. Scream 6 is a hit, and the future for Ghostface looks bright.
So it’s with a heavy heart, and a somewhat Debbie Downer demeanor, that after watching the movie on opening night, I have to confess the awful truth: Scream 6 kinda sucked. It’s not bad like Halloween Kills or the Nightmare on Elm Street remake, but it’s nowhere near the quality of any of the previous Scream movies. The NYC location isn’t used to full effect, legacy characters like Gale don’t serve any narrative purpose anymore, and the “core four” from Scream 5 are too valuable to be victims or believable suspects. The result is a surprisingly limp and, worse, scare-free movie that feels like it just went through the motions. I’m disappointed. because everyone involved with Scream 6 is capable of being better than this.
Note: this article contains heavy plot spoilers for Scream 6. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
The ‘NYC’ setting
When it was first revealed that Scream 6 would be set in New York City instead of the usual small town of Woodsboro, my expectations for the movie skyrocketed. Gunfights in bodegas? Stalking on subways? I’m there! There’s a small sub-genre of NYC-set horror movies like The Midnight Meat Train and The New York Ripper that are near and dear to my heart, so it was exciting that the franchise would venture out of its comfort zone and utilize an already scary setting to its advantage.
Yet the city in Scream 6 isn’t New York. While I was watching it, it didn’t “feel” like the Big Apple, but rather a Random Urban Setting that felt anonymous. The college campus that Tara, Mindy, and Chad attend didn’t look like Columbia, NYU, or Hunter College; the apartment buildings, police stations, and parks all the characters interacted in were too large, too clean, and too nondescript to be NYC. It was no surprise to find out in the end credits that the movie had largely been shot in Montreal, Canada. Sacré Dieu!
Movies film in locations that are not actually where they are set all the time so what’s the big deal? Part of what makes the Scream series work so well is that they use their location to produce their scares. Just look at the original Scream and how Wes Craven used the North California landscape to isolate Sidney when she’s first attached by Ghostface or, later on, at Stu’s house party. Woodsboro doesn’t exist, of course, but Craven used an appropriate stand-in to create mayhem in small-town America.
The NYC in Scream 6, by contrast, feels like it could be any city. Central Park and the Upper West Side are name-dropped, but when we actually get to those locations, all I saw was a random park and an apartment set. It disconnected me from the experience of watching the movie and pulled me from its reality. Instead of being scared by the giant movie theatre lair of Scream 6‘s Ghostface(s), I kept on thinking about how much the killer is paying for rent to keep that place. There’s no way that it could be in NYC, and for the filmmakers to ask us to believe that it is perhaps more unbelievable than any of the movie’s wild third-act plot twists.
The core four are too safe from harm or suspicion
One of the best things about Scream 5 was that it established a new cast of characters the audience could identify with and root for. Sam, Tara, Mindy, and Chad were just as likable and endearing as Sidney, Gale, Dewey, and Randy were in the first film, and you root for them to live at the end.
There’s a reason why the phrase “be careful what you wish for” is still used, and so one of Scream 5‘s principal strengths quickly became one of Scream 6‘s chief flaws. The “core four,” as they are now called, have become a liability because they are too safe to be killed off and too unlikely to be a believable Ghostface (at least in this movie). Sam is obviously in the middle of her “Ghostface-in-training” arc, which won’t pay off until the end of this new trilogy. Tara is too tied to Sam to be killed off at this point, and with Jenna Ortega’s rising stardom due to Wednesday‘s enormous success, it’s unlikely the producers would want to willingly cut the character and the actress this early.
That leaves Mindy and Chad, who both have moments in the movie where they should die but don’t. Toward the end of the film, Mindy is stabbed brutally on the subway, while Chad is stabbed by two Ghostfaces at the same time and still somehow lives. Look, I get it; I like the Meeks-Martin twins too, and Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding are charismatic enough actors to make you want to see more of them. But it’s precisely this reason why they should’ve died. Death should mean something in Scream, and just like their Uncle Randy’s tragic demise in Scream 2, the loss of one or both of them would have given an emotional weight to Scream 6 that it lacks.
Also, and let’s be honest here, Chad and Mindy have no logical function to the story anymore. Mindy’s already clued the audience into the “rules” of reboots, requels, and franchises while Chad’s out-of-nowhere romance with Tara felt rushed, implausible, and unnecessary. They’ve served their purpose, but Scream 6 can’t quite let them go, and it suffers because of it.
Because the “core four” are off limits, and legacy characters like Gale and Kirby (who, as a returning fan favorite, was not at risk at all for getting murdered or being revealed as Ghostface) are still around to draw in older fans, the result is a diminished cast of characters who can be believable victims and suspects. That meant that out of the six new characters introduced in Scream 6, only three of them — Ethan, Detective Bailey, and Quinn — could logically be the movie’s Ghostface. While it was a surprise to discover that all of them were the villain, it still highlighted the movie’s problem of having a limited pool of candidates to work with.
Gale Weathers needs to die (sorry, Courteney Cox)
Like the core four, Gale Weathers is too sacred of a character to kill off in Scream 6 … and that’s a problem. Like Mindy and Chad, she doesn’t serve any true purpose anymore. As a result, we get recycled beats that echo her character arcs from previous movies: her being too focused on her career by publishing Sam and Tara’s story to care about others (pretty much every Scream movie); Tara punching her in the face like Sidney did in the original Scream; and Gale getting attacked while her male lover is helpless to intervene (Scream 2). We’ve done this before, and no amount of Mindy’s assurances that this needs to happen in a sequel to a requel can justify it.
What’s frustrating about all of this is that Gale had a perfect opportunity to exit the franchise in Scream 6. She holds her own with Ghostface in the fight at her condo, and gets to acknowledge her love for Dewey. She even appears to die, with Sam and Tara coming too late to save her. But alas, a voiceover from an extra playing a medic indicates they found a pulse in her still body, and she’s saved by the miracle of last-minute ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement).
This hasty decision means she’ll be back in the next movie. I love Gale, but her character is just weighing down the franchise at this point without offering anything new. Also, her death would’ve isolated Sidney even more, which then sets the stage for a probable final battle in the next Scream between the franchise’s original Final Girl and the daughter of her former lover Billy Loomis, the one who started it all.
Scream 6 is too beholden to its own formula
Perhaps the most egregious sin Scream 6 commits is that it is too faithful to the Scream formula: a mysterious Ghostface stalks people and we the audience need to figure out who it is and what the motive is. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, except Scream 6 teased a radical deviation from its own rules in its opening sequence, which is the best thing about the movie. Instead of an isolated location, the helpless victim, Samara Weaving’s Laura Crane, first receives a call from Ghostface in a crowded restaurant. Instead of the masked killer getting away without their identity getting revealed, we see this Ghostface, Tony Revolori’s Jason Carvey, take his mask off, thus solving the mystery of who Ghostface is right away.
Wait, what? A Ghostface unveiled in the first five minutes? A victim killed in public with no real ties to anybody? This was a dramatic change in how a Scream movie does things, and I was intrigued by where it could go from there. It didn’t last long though; Jason was quickly killed off by another Ghostface killer, this time still left masked and anonymous, and the formula set itself right again. It’s unfortunate because Scream 6 was already going down a different path by leaving Sidney Prescott out of the main plot for the first time in the franchise’s history. [This wasn’t intentional; as most people know, Neve Campbell refused to return due to an insulting money offer from the producers.] That, combined with a new location, presented an opportunity for the franchise to be truly different and shed its rules that have since ossified with age.
Because the Scream formula was left intact, what we got is yet another rumination of horror sequels; another killer whose motivations are based on previous family trauma; another college campus setting that we’ve seen before. It’s not enough to simply remake Scream 2 and comment on it; what’s next, remaking Scream 3 and setting Scream 7 in Hollywood? Scream 5 worked because it was a fresh take on the requel. But after watching the Halloween remake trilogy, the awful Texas Chain Saw Massacre remake, and countless other “requels,” I’m tired of it. Can’t I just get a good old-fashioned sequel that isn’t obsessively tied to remaking what came before it?
What comes next?
I’m obviously in the minority in my disappointment with Scream 6. The movie has a very healthy 77% score on Rotten Tomatoes and just this past weekend, grossed a franchise-best $44 million in its opening weekend. It’s set to become the most successful Scream movie ever, and Scream 7 is all but guaranteed.
Unlike most horror franchises, Scream has the potential to be better than its brethren, and that was true, especially with Scream 6. With its new characters, the loss of Sidney as a central character, and a new approach to setting up Ghostface, the movie teased an innovative new path forward for the franchise. That it didn’t follow down that path, and instead utilized a formula that is threatening to go stale, a core group of characters that are too beloved to do anything with, and a cheap stand-in location for a city as unique as NYC, making it all the more disappointing for me as a Scream fan.
Scream 6 is an OK movie; the suspenseful ladder sequence and Mindy’s tense subway ride are highlights, and the new cast is once again terrific. But for a franchise that continually pushed the boundaries of what a horror film could or could not do for over a quarter of a century, that’s just not good enough.