Scream VI

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When fans talk about the Scream movies there’s an obvious divide between those who prefer the first three films directed by Wes Craven and those who like the last three. Objectively speaking, Scream (1996), Scream II (1997) and Scream III (2000) are far more humorous and original in their plotting than the subsequent films. But what is often left out of the conversation is that Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson were engaging in a direct discourse with the horror genre and the criticism surrounding the genre with the first three Scream films.

Some instances of this discourse are perhaps circumstantial like killing Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) early on in Scream II or the Harvey Weinstein allusions in Scream III but this, along with the comical self-awareness of the films, is only superficial. On a deeper level one sees the first Scream movies as reactions to the critical canons of people like Carol J. Clover. By emphasizing character and downplaying certain genre tropes in order to allow sub plots to breath, the first three Scream movies looked at not only how audiences engage horror films but the very nature of their appeal. Scream and Scream II especially are prime examples of that intersection between the slasher film of the eighties and the contemporaneous coming-of-age pictures.

Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), like Buffy Summers, navigated her way from adolescence to adulthood by surviving the horror genre. The first three Scream movies give audiences a tale of self-discovery and healing couched in a genre founded on the spectacles of violence and terror. This aesthetic procedure, to imbue an exploitation genre with pathos and meaning, is a direct reaction to Clover’s seminal writings on horror films.

Scream VI (2023), like the two preceding films, is not at all interested in mining these intersections or exploring the genre as a macabre social catharsis. Instead, Scream VI finds its deeper meaning through buzz words like “shared trauma”. No one in Scream VI is as complex as Sidney Prescott and there really isn’t room for that kind of characterization. Scream VI pretends to be about trauma and survival but really the only remotely intelligent thing it has to say is that franchises have become boring. And it doesn’t even say this with the wit of Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy).

While Scream VI plays out and pretends to be a commentary on the state of Hollywood franchises there are a couple standout sequences. Of course, these scenes are merely isolated moments of superior craftsmanship rather than moments of artistic brilliance. The sequence on the subway, where the characters are surrounded by Halloween costumes of horror movie villains is a fun nod to fans as well as quite affecting. Another excellent moment comes early where the kids escape Ghost Face across a ladder balance between two windows over an alley.

The thing is that Scream, the first film and the ideas contained within it, is so closely linked to the culture of its moment that continuing the franchise amounts to nothing other than fan service motivated by financial gains. Scream VI was never going to be anything but a “greatest hits” of Scream, Scream II, and Scream III. When I or any other critic talk about movie franchises today we are inevitably discussing the artistic bankruptcy of the Hollywood studio machine. There are great films being made today but they aren’t films like Scream VI anymore.