Movie Review: Another “Stab” at sending up Scary Movies — “Scream VI”

The latest model of the movies’ most efficient eviscerating machine, “Scream VI,” kills off five characters within the first 40 minutes.

Characters lean into the conventions of the genre once more, breaking down the obvious tropes, tricks and trivia concerning “What’s your favorite scary movie?” that are so universally recognized by now that even relative newcomers to the genre know exactly what cliches these carnage-as-comfort-food films promise and deliver, time and again, to the delight of the faithful.

When a character returns to the action late in the third act and asks, “Did I miss ‘the monologue?'” everybody knows the answer to that, because a villain has just finished one more “Where I explain and over-explain my villainy” speech.

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Gary Busick serve up six new set pieces, cinematic abattoirs you’ve seen sampled in the trailers — the Slaughter on the Subway and Bloodbath in the
Bodega among them.

We’re reminded that “nobody does ‘just’ a sequel anymore,” because this genre is all about the “franchise.” Thus the rules are different for “legacy characters,” changes in story direction and the like.

And when it comes to movies, we know “It’s all about ‘true crime’ limited series” in this, the golden age of streaming. Yes, the “Scream” movies are the most meta of the genre, constantly commenting on their requirements, conventions and how eye-rolling they are.

But at some point, the send-up of the send-up gets to be a bit much. Leaning into the trite just trips you up. And what you’re left with and a few nice acting moments thanks to the lovely leads filmed in loving close-up and a wearying slog through two hours of tedious fan service — one conventional gutting after another, one hundred and seven new “tzing, zing” blade sound effects is fifty too many and even the “Ghostface” mask, inspired by Munch’s painting “The Scream,” loses its thrill.

You’re no longer adorably embracing and amusingly upending conventions of the genre you say you’re honoring. You’re burying the viewer under a soap opera-sized backstory, and boring us with the arcane and absurd “reasons” mass murder has returned and someone new is masking up and butchering those connected to the saga’s narrative, but also fresh “randoms” sometimes played by big names.

The tale this time takes place in New York, where the “Core Four” from the last “Scream” have migrated to college. Tara (“Wednesday” Addams breakout Jenna Ortega) is determined to put Woodboro and the generations of killing behind her. Wary older sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) is here to advise and protect. The smitten Chad (Mason Gooding) is another survivor, another potential protector or suspect, as is this movie’s explainer, Chad’s hip, genre-explaining gay sister Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown).

They’re all enrolled in Blackmore U., which has a pretty and pretty famous slasher film expert professor (Australian Samara Weaving) and a shrink (the Canadian character actor and sometime villain Henry Czerny) Sam is seeing, but whom Tara is avoiding.

It’s Halloween, and little sister wants to party. Third wheel roomie Quinn (Liana Liberato of “If I Stay” and “Banana Split”) is having more sex than everybody else put together, probably without her the knowledge of her cop dad (Dermot Mulroney).

A couple of fresh faces circle the “Core Four,” and notoriety hangs over Tara and especially Sam thanks to their bloody escape, with some college age netizens seeing Sam as the real “murderer” and harassing her for it.

When the killings start, Mindy is cautiously defiant, Chad loyal and stoic, Tara is terrified. Sam? The way she focuses on survival strategies lets a touch of panic sneak into her “What TOOK you so long?” bravado.

And that damned Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox) pops back up to comfort, “investigate” and help cash in as a “legacy” character and TV news stereotype.

There’s a sadness that has always popped up, in good moments and bad, in these movies. And you can feel it here as this or that undeserving victim faces a sudden and horrific end. Commenting on the fanboys of the genre via a film student who sees victims as “just meat” to him explains why the films reach for something resembling empathy-for-the-dead or dying on occasion.

But it doesn’t excuse why, from that first disemboweling of Drew Barrymore way back, the killings are given more thought than reasons for them are, or why — for all their “history” — these films fail so miserably at making their characters or the viewer feel the real or even watered-down movie versions of “real” consequences of violence.

“Being at a house party after you almost got brutally murdered at a house party” isn’t funny, even when ironically pointed out.

I’ve always appreciated the humor in these films, but by the time things go wholly over the top for the finale this time, the joking has run its course.

Hilariously, the distributing studio for this one has a long list of vague “spoiler” embargoes attached to this sixth film of an endlessly repetitive franchise. As if there is such a thing at this stage.

We’re treated to lots and lots of title-checks, not just of the great horror movies, but of the “Stab” movies made about the Woodboro “Ghostface” killer, which is so meta I won’t even attempt the math. The jokes about the best “Halloween” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” film, about “Psycho II” being under-rated have aged out of their delight and thrill.

And there stands “Scream,” bloody blade in hand one more time, all stabbed out. We no longer have to ask, “Why the long face, pal?”

Rating: R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, and brief drug use

Cast: Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Hayden Panattiere, Tony Revolori, Liana Liberato, Henry Czerny, Dermot Mulroney and Courtney Cox

Credits: Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, scripted by James Vanderbilt and Gary Busick, based on characters created by Kevin Williamson. A Paramount release.

Running time: 2:03


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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