Let’s talk about just how gloriously ridiculous Scream VI gets

Though the Scream movies are happy to name-check famous slasher villains like Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and Jason Voorhees, they will always stand apart from the slasher-franchise pantheon because of their murder-mystery structure. Ghostface isn’t a character or a near-supernatural entity: It’s a costume, ready to be doffed at the climax of each movie. Every Scream film ends by unveiling which character has been hunting and stabbing (or in the latest series installment, Scream VI, occasionally shotgun-blasting) the other characters, and presenting a media-savvy monologue about their motivations.

And since these horror movies are also meta breakdowns of horror movies, the scripts are always hyper-aware of how Scream movies are different from the films they’re sending up. There’s no sign that the filmmakers want to change that dynamic any more than they want to change the other tropes, habits, and touchstones these movies reference. Momentarily subverting them for a clever surprise? Yes. Changing the way the series does business? Not particularly. But there are a number of ways Scream VI might make the usual approach untenable in the future, and that’s an exciting prospect. Let’s get into spoiler territory and talk about why.

[Ed. note: This post fully and completely spoils the ending of Scream VI.]

Is Neve Campbell back as Sidney in Scream VI?

Photo: Philippe Bossé/Paramount Pictures

When Neve Campbell was unable to reach a deal with producers to return as heroine Sidney Prescott for Scream VI, some fans wondered whether maybe she did subsequently work something out for a small, surprising role that was being kept under wraps. Maybe Sidney would die in one of those iconic pre-credit scenes! Or maybe she’d turn out to be the killer this time!

But no, Campbell doesn’t make any sneaky cameos in Scream VI. Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), one of two legacy cast members who returns in this movie, reports that Sidney is taking her family to safety, far away from the New York City Ghostface murders, and won’t be joining the fray. “She deserves her happy ending,” Gale notes, with the series’ characteristic self-awareness. Given that Campbell felt she was being lowballed on her salary, this closure delivered by proxy feels a little disingenuous. But it’s also true: Once Sidney has been established as happily past her Woodsboro experiences, with her own family to care for, repeatedly dragging her back into a slasher series would feel pretty cruel.

Who dies in Scream VI?

Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) stands inside a cobwebbed, cast-iron fence in the dark, shining a light on an electronic lock, in Scream VI

Photo: Philippe Bossé/Paramount Pictures

Actually, when you get down to it… hardly anyone! For all the movie’s talk of how franchises work, and how each entry in a movie series is obligated to top the previous one, Scream VI’s creative team couldn’t bring themselves to meaningfully up the body count.

The movie certainly seems more intense than past Scream films during its corker of an opening scene, where Samara Weaving (star of one of the filmmakers’ previous projects, the hide-and-seek murder movie Ready or Not) joins the parade of Drew Barrymore-style familiar faces killed at the outset. But in one of the most thrilling moments of the film, her murder isn’t immediately followed by the usual cut to the title card. Instead, the latest Ghostface takes off his mask, revealing another familiar face: Tony Revolori, familiar from Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, and as Flash Thompson in the MCU/Sony Spider-Man movies.

Scream VI follows his character home, where he chats on the phone with his partner in Ghostfacing, discussing their plans to stalk and kill Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega), the recent New York transplants who survived the last round of Woodsboro carnage, in the 2022 Scream. He even already knows Tara from their film-studies class, which was taught by Weaving’s character. It’s as if we’ve joined Scream VI halfway through the movie, as seen from a different point of view. But it turns out it isn’t really his roommate and partner in crime on the other end of the line; it’s yet another new Ghostface, who dispatches both of the opening segment’s wannabe killers on his way toward stalking Sam and Tara himself.

After that twisty, unnerving opening, however, Scream VI isn’t quite so relentless. A few innocent bystanders are killed in a convenience-store scene, and a couple of disposable side characters are offed (or seem to be) early on. But while this movie’s Ghostface seems more brutal than ever — stabbing with greater speed and ferocity than his predecessors, picking up that shotgun when necessary — he doesn’t always finish the job. Gale, Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), Chad (Mason Gooding), and Scream 4 survivor Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) are picked off one by one… except that they all wind up surviving multiple stab wounds, like Dewey (David Arquette) in all the movies leading up to the 2022 Scream. Scream VI still wants the kills, but it doesn’t want its characters to actually die and leave the series. At the end of the movie, the “core four,” as Chad insists on calling himself, Mindy, Tara, and Sam, remain very much intact. Apart from those poor bodega customers, the actual non-bad-guy body count once the opening sequence is over is pretty much just Mindy’s girlfriend Anika (Devyn Nekoda) and Sam’s suspicious-looking therapist (Henry Czerny from 1996’s Mission: Impossible).

So who is Ghostface in Scream VI? And does it matter?

The masked Ghostface killer tries to force their way through a cracked-open door braced shut by a chest of drawers in Scream VI

Photo: Philippe Bossé/Paramount Pictures

Effectively, the movie’s Ghostface is… everyone else. As Scream fans (and Scream characters) know by now, Ghostfacing is typically a two-person job. During Scream VI’s tour of series memorabilia, it’s noted that only Roman, the killer director from Scream 3, actually did the job on his own. Scream VI ups the ante with three Ghostfaces, which means that a hefty percentage of the newly added characters are actually the collective killer: Wayne Bailey (Dermot Mulroney), the cop initially working the new string of murders; his daughter Quinn (Liana Liberato), also Sam and Tara’s roommate, who appears to die at Ghostface’s hand earlier in the film; and Ethan (Jack Champion – Spider from Avatar: The Way of Water!), Chad’s nerdy roommate, who is secretly Wayne’s son.

They’re doing the Ghostface thing because Wayne’s other son is Ritchie (Jack Quaid), Sam’s psycho boyfriend from the previous movie. The family has taken up the legacy of Ritchie’s Stab (or really, Scream) fandom. The museum-like collection of police-evidence mementos from previous installments belongs to Ritchie; the family is just trying to carry on his work for him.

In a film that’s sometimes light on actual meta-cinema commentary, at least for a Scream movie, there’s something provocatively eerie about a group of people moving a film series forward not because they particularly care about it, but because they feel an obligation to. (And in this case, a pretty demented one.) It highlights the way that sequels, especially those not made by the original creators, can start to feel like fanfiction — and in some cases, a new kind of unwilling fanfiction, created to meet the demand of audiences and studio executives, rather than to fulfill the fandom of the people actually charged with creating it.

But Scream VI doesn’t really dig into the idea of a joyless, obligatory revival, maybe because the movie itself isn’t joyless at all. These filmmakers seem perfectly pleased to be playing around in this world and establishing a new group of characters. At the same time, that enthusiasm may have backed this series into a corner, even as it enjoys some of its biggest box-office numbers ever.

What’s left for Ghostface in Scream VII?

Five cast members from Scream VI (Devyn Nekoda, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Jenna Ortega, Mason Gooding, Melissa Barrera) stand together in a living room, clutching each other for support, and stare at something offscreen in Scream VI

Photo: Philippe Bossé/Paramount Pictures

The survivable fake-out stabbings become absurd by the end of Scream VI. (Seriously, Mindy is repeatedly stabbed deep in the gut, and mere hours later, she has “insisted” on leaving the hospital to meet her friends, as if she’s being kept for observation.) But the cop-outs come from a good place: There’s nothing wrong with the fact that the filmmakers like Sam, Tara, Mindy, and Chad too much to let them die. The same was true in the earlier Scream movies: Not killing initial Scream survivors Sidney, Gale, or Dewey for a cheap shock felt like a sign of a slasher series that actually felt affection and respect for its leads.

If the Scream movies are murder mysteries at heart, threatening to knock off their central detectives just seems counterproductive. Even following Dewey’s this-just-got-real death in the 2022 Scream, Scream VI balks at taking down any of its stars. Though Gale has a “good” death scene here, perhaps the filmmakers sensed that it would be difficult to repeat the dramatic shock of Dewey actually dying. Though Gale’s scene was clearly shot so it would work either way, the movie appends a line about her pulling through.

This is all perfectly fine for the purposes of this particular movie. For the much-discussed franchise, however, it raises a lot of questions. Now that the likable “core four” have survived two movies and multiple fake-outs (hell, Tara is introduced with a fake-out; she’s the opening-scene victim who doesn’t actually die), it will be hard to kill any of them off in a way that doesn’t feel cheap.

One possible option Scream VI explores involves Sam: She’s the daughter of Billy Loomis, and still has visions of her dad (played by a digital avatar of Skeet Ulrich) urging her to choose violence whenever possible. There’s a tantalizing darkness in how much Sam relishes her opportunities to kill assailants, even if she technically acts in self-defense. And she does share a meaningful look at her dad’s old mask at the end of Scream VI, before appearing to reject that impulse and return to her friends. (There are shades of this idea in the recent Halloween Ends, as well, with the Michael Myers mask lingering in Laurie’s house after the man himself has been definitively pulverized.) Sam may continue to wrestle with her demons in a future sequel, but turning her into Ghostface feels both too obvious and too cavalier.

So, moving forward, the Scream movies have four new-ish lead characters and two or three legacy characters who wouldn’t feel quite right as either killer or victim. This doesn’t leave a lot of room for introducing new and credible suspects or slasher fodder, especially given that Ghostface usually reveals some kind of secret connection to past movies.

To some extent, this was always the case for Scream sequels. None of them are exactly pantheon-level mystery plots. Yet with production on these new installments outpacing the ability to track new horror trends, and their success being fueled in part by the fun of hanging out with these characters, Ghostface’s traditional reasons for being feel diminished. It’s hard to picture a mystery over Ghostface’s identity that doesn’t feel somewhat predictable or arbitrary, and on the basis of Scream VI, the series is running out of ideas about what kind of meta-motivations can fuel this shifting killer.

Both these problems are probably a natural byproduct of having characters who sometimes manage to feel like real people, or at least well-rounded movie people, rather than purely arch caricatures. It will be especially challenging to find a creative context for Scream VII if the very idea of the movies continues to blur into amorphous, streamable / snackable / shareable “content.” That’s another subject the new movie touches on briefly, but doesn’t fully pursue. The opening of Scream VI hints at a trickier, off-model, and scarier direction for Scream VII. The hall-of-souvenirs finale, meanwhile, hints at all the baggage the series will have to shed in order to move that way.

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