In “Scream VI,” the psychotic knife-wielding serial killer known as Ghostface is set loose on the streets of New York. Yawn.
The former terror of the fictional Californian town of Woodsboro has made a cross-country trip to the City That Never Sleeps, bringing his fearsome mask, black cloak and an impressive stash of daggers. But he’s lost in the big city, a slasher made small in his new playground.
No disrespect to Mr. Stubby-Stubby, but New York is where you get yelled at by a freaking hot dog vendor, have fistfights for downtown parking, pay $8 for a pack of gum, and find approximately six public restrooms for 8 million people . Ghostface, dude, start your scare game in the Big Apple. This is the town where Pizza Rat lives. This is a town where high schoolers have nunchucks.
Despite the scene change, Scream VI is less of a sequel and more of a stuttering step, half a film with some very satisfying stabs but no real progress or even movement. It’s like putting water in blood. And to fully enjoy this “rerun sequel” you need to have seen most of the others.
The four main survivors of the fifth Scream are here a year later – the Carpenter sisters, Sam and Tara (Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega) and the smug brother-sister duo played by Mason Gooding and Jasmine Savoy Brown. They are called the Core Four. “Survivors must stick together,” says the brother.
The same directing team of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillette are back, as are writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, who this time layer in some criticism of social media and fame. Courteney Cox also returns, the last original cast member — or “legacy,” as she’s called — to appear in the franchise. This may not be such a commendable thing.
Sam Carpenter is firmly in the crosshairs of Ghostface – or more than one Ghostface, if the pattern continues – and is trying to escape his legacy (and notoriety) as the child of an earlier serial killer. Bodies begin to fall rapidly. “It’s not your fault, Sam,” her sister says. “But it is,” Sam replies. And there are some disturbing signs that a latent killer lurks in her heart as well.
The filmmakers have chosen quite a canvas – and wasted it. Unlike the “John Wick” franchise, the people of “Scream VI” seem overwhelmed by the city they find themselves in. We expected Ghostface to cut up Elmos in Times Square. We wanted financiers in puffy vests and Brooklyn hipsters with weird facial hair to bleed. We wanted smug Upper East Siders with little dogs to get splashed. Instead, the city seems to demean Ghostface, making him just another easy-to-ignore tourist who overpays for fake purses on the street.
There are fight scenes in a bodega and in a luxury apartment on the Upper West Side, but perhaps the best New York sequence is on a crowded subway train, where Ghostface lurks in plain sight. The movie takes place around Halloween, so the train is full of creepy dudes, changed college kids and masked marauders – in other words, a normal Tuesday. Anyone who has ridden the New York subway in the last three years wouldn’t even flinch at Ghostface. They might even cough up a dollar to make it go away.
The sequel sticks to the formula of folding in on itself, poking fun in a meta way at the horror conventions it helped build. “We’re in a franchise!” one of the Core Four explains, and indeed “Scream VI” opens with a film professor babbling about clichéd movie tropes and ends with a fight-for-your-life shootout in an abandoned movie theater. And so in conclusion we have to limp into the next sequel with no end in sight and hear the town loudly mocking anyone foolish enough to try to come and scare it.
“Scream VI,” a Paramount Pictures release that opens in theaters Friday, is rated R for “heavy gore, language throughout, brief drug use.” Duration: 123 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.