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SCREAM IV (2023)

Release Date: 03/10/23 [Cinemas]
Genre: Horror. Mystery. Thriller.

Studio: Paramount Pictures

"In the next installment, the survivors of the Ghostface killings leave Woodsboro behind and start a fresh chapter in New York City." 


                                                                                                      "We're in a franchise."


It has been nearly 30 years since Ghostface slashed through our screens and into our horror hearts in the original Scream. This sixth installment, set a year after the events of last year's simply titled Scream in requel fashion, sees the killer roaming around New York City's alleys, streets, and subways, slicing and dicing more violently than ever.


The returning cast includes Melissa Barerra, Jenna Ortega, Jasmin Savoy Brown, and Mason Gooding, who moved from Woodsboro to the Big Apple. Legacy characters also on-screen include Courtney Cox as Gale Weathers and Hayden Panettiere as Kirby, who was thought to have been killed off in Scream 4. A handful of newcomers join these characters, and like every installment before, the mystery quickly builds as to who will be killed off, who will survive, and who will emerge as the killer or killers. The absence of Neve Campbell as final-girl champion Sidney Prescott is felt but doesn't linger, as with loveable fan-favorite Dewey (David Arquette); may he rest in peace. While Gale Weathers appears briefly and has an entertaining and creative scene right before the third act, her inclusion here is superfluous. Kirby (Panettiere), who is now a 30-year-old FBI agent who inexplicably elected to re-involve herself with Ghostface, comes on screen with rousing energy but later sadly feels stale. The "core four," consisting of Sam and Tara, Mindy and her twin brother Chad, carry the torch confidently; they aren't the stars here, though. Ghostface is front and center here; the ubiquitous flagship character has become the main driving force like the slasher icons of decades past. 


Now that Sam (Barrera) and Tara (Ortega) have relocated to the concrete jungle, their attempts to move on from their traumatic Woodsboro experience vary slightly. Sam flounders in therapy while feeling a burdening responsibility to smother Tara in protection. Tara insists on burying her past through college partying, resisting being trapped by her last encounter with Ghostface. The sisters' reprieve is cut short (no pun intended) when Ghostface emerges once more to stalk, kill and torment in this new metropolitan hunting ground.


The elements that make an excellent Scream movie are here, with a few new additions. The whodunit element is sewn in nicely, and the guessing game of who the killer is will keep the audience invested. The kills here are brutal and substantial, and the lore expands to new heights. Sam continues to be haunted by her lineage, being the daughter and granddaughter of two previous Ghostface killers. The bond the core four share feels authentic and sincere. This Scream entry might have some of the best-written dialogue ever uttered in a slasher film. What makes this movie feel truly fresh is the setting. New York is extensive, crowded, and uncharted territory for this franchise. Scream VI feels like it is living and breathing New York City. Typical slasher horror settings like a cabin or the suburbs are abandoned for broader yet somehow claustrophobic locations. Pivotal scenes set in a busy bodega and an uncomfortably packed subway car crank the tension, keeping the anxious pressure at a boiling point for quite a long time. The kills in this film aren't remarkably new or inventive but feel heftier, grittier, and more vicious. This iteration is somehow an angrier Ghostface, a more savage Ghostface. There is a particularly stressful sequence involving a ladder that was simple in execution but felt elaborately cruel. 


As with all Scream movies, a character teaches a short class explaining the rules of the present situation. Once again, this explanation is given by Mindy (Brown), filling in this responsibility on behalf of her uncle and original horror movie rule authority Randy Meeks. In the spirit of self-aware commentary, Scream graduates from a sequel, trilogy, and even re-quel territory and now is in the land of the franchise. The catch is that nobody is safe, including legacy characters. This detail is a crucial point, and this film is wise to include it. This sixth installment doesn't skip on the ever-present and obligatory meta-commentary on the horror movie genre. Previous Scream entries touched on trilogies, reboots, and elevated horror; Scream VI elects to dial in on the zeitgeist of true-crime culture and our obsessive attraction to entertaining the conspiracy theories that culture evokes. This commentary ties in beautifully with Sam's arc throughout the film. 


Scream VI is shot wonderfully gritty and grounded. The cinematography is exquisite, lending an ever-present sense of beautiful dread. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Oplin and Tyler Gillet, responsible for last year's Scream, return to deliver some of the most chilling scenes in the Scream series. The filmmakers use the landscape, making New York an excellent playground for terrifying sequences. I was relieved to see that no jump-scares made the final cut. Bettinelli-Oplin and Gillet capitalize on standard and public set pieces to mold new, ruthless flashes of pure horror. 


What holds Scream VI back from scoring a direct hit is the steam it loses after such a strong start. This critique is a two-pronged observation. Firstly at two hours long, Scream VI barrels through with all known ingredients synergizing wonderfully, only to lose its flavor in the third act. This delivery doesn't suggest that Scream VI is entirely predictable; a few moments were quite surprising. But the pay-off and motivations land poorly authentically and organically. This revelation ties to the second note. Scream VI must contend with subverting expectations, which is quite challenging coming from behind five previous installments. Scream VI smartly misdirects in the opening scene, a requisite for all Scream films to set the tone. Plot points in the third act pivot the audience to an inevitable conclusion; the issue is that Scream VI gets so wrapped up in subverting expectations that it winds up tripping over itself to reach its ending. The ending still worked; it tasted a bit sour from the solid first two acts.


Unlike another horror slasher icon that visited New York in the 1980s, Ghostface feels like it's terrorizing New Yorkers from the start of Scream VI. This detail plays well into Scream's compulsory meta tendencies, and major props go to directors Bettinelli-Oplin and Gillet for still paying homage to that particularly iconic slasher's New York trip in this film's clever opening scene. Ultimately, Scream VI works well; it is highly recommended for horror and slasher fans. This film should be revered for adding to and not subtracting from arguably the most consistently excellent slasher series ever produced. Bettinelli-Oplin and Gillet deliver a respectable contribution, giving equity to the story and violence. Now that Scream is officially in franchise territory, the gloves are off. But hopefully, the Ghostface mask stays on.

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