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Identity Crisis: “Scream VI” reviewed

It’s only been a year since Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega), Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown), and Chad Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding) survived their near-fatal encounter with Ghostface. Sam struggles with the lingering trauma and paranoia, not to mention her potential for inherited madness, while the remaining Woodsboro survivors attempt to return to normality. That entails new faces joining their ranks: Mindy’s girlfriend Annika (Devyn Nekoda), Sam’s roommate Quinn (Liana Liberato), and Chad’s pal Ethan (Jack Campion). Ghostface comes calling again, this time with an even crueler mean streak. The group will need all the help they can get to survive this round and find allies that include NYPD Detective Bailey (Dermot Mulroney) and Ghostface veteran Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere).

Screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick lay out the rules for this horror whodunnit at every turn, keeping within the franchise’s canon, only to use those established rules to subvert expectations or shatter them altogether. That alone would make a delicate tightrope to walk, but Vanderbilt and Busick layer in complex themes, character growth, and meta commentary, making each knife wound deeply felt. Threads from the previous entry evolve in poignant ways; the meta commentary is no longer simply about the genre but rather about how fans engage with it in the social media age. How Scream VI exists within the franchise, examining its legacy while separating itself from the pack, astounds in an exhilarating way.

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Scream, Ready or Not) continue their streak of hitting that perfect blend of suspenseful thrills and biting humor. Here the filmmakers up the ante, delivering inventive, edge-of-your-seat set pieces that showcase the urban setting and just how savage Ghostface is this round. The kills are merciless and visceral, and the chase sequences are impressive and plentiful. Dense arcs and themes aside, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett ensure that you’ll never want for entertainment here; it’s a bloody feast for the slasher fan.

Building off the story line of the previous movie, Tara (Jenna Ortega) and her sister, Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), whose last name will have some fans of “Halloween” chuckling insufferably, have left their cursed small town of Woodsboro to attend an N.Y.U.-like school in Manhattan with a new gang of friends/potential killers. Once a masked figure starts stabbing people, everyone looks askance at each other and starts breaking down the rules to surviving a horror movie.

With a richer character to work with than the protagonists in the early films, Barrera does an effectively brooding job playing a tortured possible antihero. As the daughter of Billy Loomis (played by Skeet Ulrich), the killer in the original movie, whose ghostly presence returns here, she adds some new tension to the boilerplate disposable victims.

More emphasis on connecting the dots and trying to keep the audience guessing means Scream VI loses the sense of comedy – and, yes, sexiness – from the original two. Also, since this was filmed in Montreal, not the real Manhattan, this calls to mind not real NYC,  this film at time calls to mind the eighth Friday the 13th film, Jason Takes Manhattan – the originals would have had enough self-awareness about this to namecheck that.