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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

HOYA HORROR | ‘Scream VI’ Is Too Self-Referential to Be Worth It


At what point do we say “enough is enough”? It’s an increasingly common question regarding long-standing franchises like “Star Wars,” “Marvel” and “Lord of the Rings.” Now, it seems necessary to level it at the “Scream” series, whose latest installment — “Scream VI” (2023), directed by Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin — does little to win over viewers. 

Picking up where its immediate predecessor — 2022’s confusingly titled “Scream” (the fifth “Scream” movie following the 1996 smash hit, which was also called “Scream”) — left off, “Scream VI” continues the story of the self-dubbed “Core Four”: sisters Tara (Jenna Ortega, “Wednesday”) and Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera,“In the Heights”) starring alongside twins Chad (Mason Gooding) and Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown). 

As is typical for a “Scream” film, these four hapless youths soon find themselves tormented by a masked “Ghostface” killer. And what a coincidence — not only is this knife-wielding murderer dressed in precisely the same garb as all those that came before him, but he also speaks with the same modulated, Roger L. Jackson-voiced rasp! I know it makes sense, given the premise that the first Ghostface inspired every subsequent imitator, but still, you’d think that at least one of them would have switched up the costume. Black robes are so ’90s. 

Ghostface’s attire is one example of the harkening-back-to-the-past common to a franchise that has always erred towards the meta and postmodern. Indeed, the first “Scream” would not have been nearly as popular without its self-deprecatory commentary on slasher film tropes. 

The second, third, and fourth “Scream” movies followed suit, taking aim at torture-porn flicks (“Saw”), collegiate whodunnits (“I Know What You Did Last Summer”) and even “Scream” movies themselves, via the in-universe “Stab” franchise. “Scream VI” adds an extra level of contrivance, parodying “Scream’s” metacommentary and narrative continuity obsession by engaging in … more obsession over metacommentary and narrative continuity. 

What’s thornier, “Scream VI” borrows heavily from the franchise’s first few films, with most of the main cast descended from 1996’s original characters and occupying roughly the same roles as their forefathers. Basically, 2023’s entry is a caricature copying a copy of a horror movie caricaturing horror movies. Confused yet? 

In case there were any doubts about the motivation behind the perpetually backward-facing gaze of “Scream VI,” they are quickly silenced by the on-screen return of legacy characters Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere). It has become something of a trend amongst rejuvenated horror properties to bring back well-known faces, but Cox and Panettiere, both fine actresses in their own right, seem superfluous from the get-go. There is nothing about the roles that the two women occupy that could not be accomplished by another, newer character. Tellingly, the only difference would be that “Scream VI” could not capitalize on the dusty star power of yesteryear. 

Oddly enough, “Scream VI” appears to understand its own shortcomings. There’s a moment in the middle of the film where Mindy explains the rules of a “franchise sequel” in an extended monologue cribbed directly from the 1996 “Scream’s” iconic cinephile, the Jamie Kennedy-portrayed Randy Meeks (who, wouldn’t you know it, is Mindy’s uncle). 

According to Mindy, “franchises are just continuing episodic installments to boost existing IP.”  This is a blatant fourth wall-breaking admission of guilt by the filmmakers, revealing “Scream VI” to be the bloated, late-franchise entry drunk on its own history. 

Yes, Mindy’s observation is meant as a smile and a wink to the audience — but because of the film’s evident aversion to fresh ideas, it simply comes off as desperate. It is all well and good to poke fun at oneself, but as any alcoholic knows, acknowledging that you have a problem does not fix it — it takes more than self-awareness to address underlying flaws. 

In fact, therein lies my biggest gripe with Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin’s creation. I can (sometimes) forgive unoriginality. I can look past needlessly complex metacommentary. What is not acceptable is when the latter is weaponized in an attempt to trick audiences into ignoring a film’s blandness. It is lazy, disrespectful and — to be frank — dumb. 

Not “so dumb it’s brilliant,” to borrow the words of Kate Hudson in “Glass Onion” — a franchise entry that is far superior to “Scream VI.” No, as Benoit Blanc might say, “it’s just dumb.”

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