Last year’s Scream delivered a “requel” that introduced a new generation of killers and survivors while celebrating Wes Craven and the franchise’s legacy. Much like Scream 2Scream VI arrives a full year later and expands upon its characters and themes in thrilling ways as the surviving Woodsboro players relocate to college in NYC.

With introductions now in the rearview, this slasher sequel lets a ruthless Ghostface loose in the city, slicing up an intense, flawless entry that continues the streak of insightful introspection while escalating the thrills, kills, humor, and heart to a breathless degree.

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).

L-r, Melissa Barrera (“Sam Carpenter”) , Jenna Ortega (“Tara Carpenter”), Jasmin Savoy Brown (“Mindy Meeks-Martin”) and Mason Gooding (“Chad Meeks-Martin”) star in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group’s “Scream VI.”

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.

Ghostface in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group’s “Scream VI.”

What ties together the strong direction and intelligent writing are the characters. Scream VI deepens the relationships and personalities established in the previous film, ensuring that each new and returning player gets at least one moment to shine. Most importantly, it provides extreme stakes as we realize we’ve now grown deeply attached to each one. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillet stage brilliant slasher set pieces and draw out the perfect mix of intensity and horror, but the cast ensures we’re invested.

In a sequel that makes it clear that safety is off the table, and boy is it, every encounter becomes harrowing because we’re committed to their survival. Barrera’s grown more confident in Sam’s skin, and the character’s self-awareness provides the foundation for a satisfying arc. Ortega’s expanded role here elicits a few crowd-pleasing cheers, while Savoy Brown and Gooding endearingly round out the affecting theme of found family in the face of insurmountable odds.

Scream VI is leaner, meaner, and more exhilarating in every way. Everything is meticulously thought out and well planned, from Easter eggs to formerly dormant franchise plot threads. The entire cast and crew are firing on all cylinders, resulting in a well-crafted, incredible thrill ride you’ll want to revisit again and again. It succeeds as a standalone slasher on its own merits, but the conversations it’s having with the franchise itself create a razor-sharp gamechanger for legacy sequels.

Scream VI releases in theaters on March 10, 2023.

Reyna Cervantes

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