Scream VI. MA15+, 122 minutes. Three stars.
Ghostface is back, but in this sixth instalment the action has moved from the town of Woodsboro to New York, New York. That might seem an odd choice: a small town is not necessarily a haunt for serial killers; in the Big Apple we've been conditioned to expect them (and worse).
With original director Wes Craven dead and writer Kevin Williamson no longer involved (except as an executive producer), the creatives from the previous film - writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busey and directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett - have returned, along with several actors and their characters.
However, Sidney Prescott, the series' main character, is not in Scream VI - Neve Campbell declined to return over a pay dispute - and the character's absence is noted in the story. But don't worry, series fans, there's still plenty of meta humour, smirky references, twists, red herrings and - oh yes - bloody kills. And a change of focus is not necessarily a bad thing.
There were only two other people in the Dendy cinema when I saw this: it would be interesting to feel the response of a packed house of fans. Regardless, I enjoyed the film: while the self-referentialism gets a bit repetitive and cutesy at times and there's the occasional lull in the two-hour running time, it's consistently entertaining. Be warned though: there's a lot of the red stuff.
If you're not familiar with the previous five Scream instalments and you're a horror fan then (1) where have you been for the past three decades? and (2) stop reading now, go watch them, and come back. Regardless of the genre or series, the sixth entry is not a good place to start. After the insanity of titling the fifth film the same as the original, we're now back to numerals (Roman rather than Arabic this time, making for a cute typeface on the poster).
The characters might have left Woodsboro, but the legacy of blood continues to haunt them. Sam Carpenter (played by Melissa Barrera) - the illegitimate daughter of Billy Loomis from the first movie - is dogged by online and real-life accusations that she masterminded the murders in the previous film. While dealing with this she also worries about her younger half-sister Tara (Jenna Ortega), who's trying to put things behind her and concentrate on university.
Also in from Woodsboro are twins Mandy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding), the niece and nephew of another early-instalment character, Randy.
There are some new characters - fellow students, a therapist, a film professor played by our own Samara Weaving - all of whom might be red herrings, victims or maybe even perpetrators. Who can be trusted?
Another newcomer turns up when, inevitably, Ghostface starts another killing spree. Police detective Wayne Bailey (Dermot Mulroney) comes on the case.
And, also inevitably, nosy journalist Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), returns - as another survivor (going way back to the start) she claims it's her story too, though her motives are not altruistic.
Ghostface's territory has expanded and is often very public - striking in a convenience store and on a train, for example - so nowhere is safe.
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As characters note, by this stage in a franchise, even legacy characters (the in-universe Stab films or the one they're in themselves) can be considered fair game, so no one is safe. And given what's happened in the past, it might be said nobody is above suspicion, too.
That includes Kirby (Hayden Panettiere), who survived one of the previous murder sprees and is now an FBI agent with an obvious special interest in what's happening.
The convenience store scene is a highlight set piece, suspenseful and taut and making good use of the environment.
Some of the film's other doings are a bit much, including a rather convoluted climactic stretch, and there are too many examples of characters exhibiting, without irony, the same failings as those in other slasher films (You always have to make sure someone you've shot/stabbed/otherwise attaked really is really dead! And never leave a weapon behind!)
But despite such missteps, the film is a lot of fun and a worthy entry in the series. There's a brief, if obvious, post-credit gag.
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