Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘Scream VI’
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Twenty-five years ago, the horror genre was on life support. In turn, the slasher subgenre was as dead as a doornail. But, that all changed with Scream (1996) — a movie that brought together fresh new talents & a master of horror to deconstruct the genre in a darkly comedic fashion. Of course, one Scream always leads to another. And in this case, one legacy sequel leads to another with Scream VI (2023)!
A mere fourteen months ago, Scream (2022) hit theaters and was a huge hit. Grossing $137.7 million worldwide on a production budget of a mere $24 million. The 2022 legacy sequel proved yet again that audiences still love scary movies. More so than other horror sequels of its ilk, Scream ’22 was primarily praised by mass audiences, the genre community, and critics. It received a warmer reception than the other big horror sequel, Halloween Kills (2022), which was largely butchered — including by yours truly! More than the well-received legacy sequel, Scream ’22 revealed something more significant about the franchise overall.
Currently, Scream is the most popular series in the horror community. For us genre lovers, this franchise is the biggest it’s been since the original trilogy’s conclusion. Even Scream 3 (2000) is getting significant love among the fanbase these days. Moreover, if you go to any horror convention these days, odds are several prominent cast members from Scream (1996) will be on the guest list. And I can tell you from experience these folks’ lines are generally long. But on the upside, most of the cast is well worth meeting if you’re into that sort of thing.
Despite the current popularity of the Scream film series, though, I cannot say I’ve felt the desire to go back and watch Scream ’22. Don’t get me wrong — I find that lega-sequel enjoyable, but not re-watchable or memorable. Even when the movie in review was in production and all the hoopla over Neve Campbell (of the upcoming Twisted Metal TV series) not returning over a salary dispute hit social media, I felt no need to go back and revisit that installment. It’s not as if I was going to miss Campbell as Sydney Prescott in Scream VI. After all, we’ve all seen that character supposedly exit the series multiple times. I doubt Campbell’s return in a sixth entry would have been little more than an extended cameo. However, she has earned whatever salary she requested.
In the tradition of the original Scream trilogy (1996-2000), Scream VI reunites the same cast-and-crew members involved in its predecessor from last year. The directing duo of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, also known as Radio Silence, return to helm another screenplay by returning screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, which also sees the return of the surviving characters introduced in the previous installment, along with a few new ones. Much the was Scream ’22 patterned itself after the original film, the sixth entry takes many of its cues from Scream 2 (1997). But this time, Ghostface (voiced by Roger Jackson) takes Manhattan!
Picking up one year later after the 2022 film, Scream VI finds Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) and her two best friends, twins Mindy and Chad Meeks-Martin (played by Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding, respectively), moving to New York City for college. Of course, they brought more than a little of their baggage from Woodsboro — namely, Tara’s overprotective sister, Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera). Together, “The Core Four” all live in the same apartment, which is understandable considering the rent in The Big Apple. Sam is attempting to process the violent trauma of the previous year, while Tara is actively ignoring it to move on with life. Nevertheless, the sisters and their friends soon find that the horror of Woodsboro has gone to college with them as someone in the Ghostface guise wants to continue the Stab legacy!
From its opening, Scream VI somehow holds more potential than the fifth entry that preceded it ever did; it may be the change in scenery to the big city. Still, this installment immediately kicks into high gear and holds my interest with its higher entertainment value. In the opening sequence, the audience is quickly told we’re now at a point in this franchise where the referential nature that makes this series so unique doesn’t matter as much as it once did. Instead, Radio Silence is doubling down on focusing on the in-movie meta franchise, Stab, and the characters established in the previous film. As a group, I had real trouble getting invested in them last year due to how they were written. Also, I found most of the cast to be stiff.
What a difference a year makes! For the most part, this cast of characters has improved. This time around, they have natural chemistry (except for Barrera, who once again seems a little too disconnected from everything). Our protagonists no longer seem to be pale, Millennial imitations of the franchise’s legacy cast. On the contrary, the screenwriters and directors must have put in the work the last fourteen months because this franchise finally belongs to its requel cast.
So much so, in fact, that the legacy characters featured in the film — Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) — don’t need to be here. The appear for the sake of fan service and they add nothing to the story. Worse yet, Kirby Reed was the best aspect of Scre4m (2011), but does not even feel like the same character myself and so many other fans adored over a decade ago. Now, I understand that Kirby would have changed in the intervening years between being a teenager who endured violent trauma and becoming a clever fed. But this character evolution comes at the cost of a noticeable diminishment of charm and personality. And as much as it pains me, this is primarily a result of Panettiere’s stilted performance in her return to an arguably iconic role. I’ve always been a fan of hers and I understand she’s been semi-retired for the last several years. However, that still doesn’t change the fact she delivers all her lines with a seeming lack of expression through her lips, which are barely open. Dermot Mulroney is incredibly over-the-top in his part as Detective Bailey, but at least he emotes.
Scream VI is beautifully crafted, highly entertaining, and incredibly brutal. The gap in entertainment value and character endearment compared to the previous entry certainly makes Scream VI a Franchise Expansion. Alas, this film is also too beholden to Scream 2 and needs to take more risks. I very much enjoyed this movie, as I think most fans will, but for this franchise to continue its expansion, the already greenlit seventh installment will have to stop pulling punches.
Scream VI is now playing exclusively in theaters.
“What’s your favorite scary movie?”
Scream 2 (1997)
Scream 3 (2000)