Major spoilers for “Scream VI” follow.
At a certain point, all long-running film franchises begin to resemble soap operas. Characters change, they die, some old faces fade away while new faces step up into the spotlight, and so on. A large majority of soap operas typically feature characters that are relatives of each other, as they all struggle to define themselves as individuals while wrestling with their larger family legacy.
Now that the “Scream” franchise of slasher films has officially entered into its second generation of leading characters with “Scream VI,” it’s not necessarily true that the series is more soap opera-y now than it was before. After all, this is a franchise whose inciting incident, as described in the first “Scream,” was infidelity, a plot point that feels more soap opera than slasher movie when taken on its own.
That’s no accident, however, as the bulk of original “Scream” director Wes Craven’s films featured a recurring theme of evil emerging from a family, usually involving a parent’s not-so-buried sins and secrets being foisted upon their children. The themes of family, legacy, and separating oneself from them (or succumbing to them) are baked into the franchise, and “Scream VI” is no different. In this latest installment, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett along with writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick continue to twist the metatextual knife within the franchise, confronting the series’ legacy itself through the new lead characters’ own struggles with family and identity.
New York Has A New Problem
Contrary to what a casual glance at the franchise might seem to indicate, the “Scream” films have not uniformly taken place in the town of Woodsboro, California: “Scream 2” was set in Windsor College in Ohio, and “Scream 3” is all about good old Hollywood in Los Angeles. Despite that, “Scream VI” moving the proceedings to New York City still feels novel, especially given the city’s unique history with the horror genre, including one famous slasher franchise in particular.
Even though Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), her half-sister Tara (Jenna Ortega), and their friends Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding) have moved across the country, the specter of Ghostface and Woodsboro continues to follow them literally and figuratively. Jason (Tony Revolori) and his (unseen) partner Greg, classmates of Tara at Blackmore University in the city, have a plan to kill Tara and Sam in order to make their own “Stab” movie (i.e. the fictional film-within-a-film franchise based on the Woodsboro murders), but are thwarted by a mysterious new Ghostface who clearly has other ideas.
Meanwhile, Sam is in therapy with the latest in a series of analysts, Dr. Stone (Henry Czerny), who either can’t or won’t help her with the trauma that haunts her, especially when she opens up to him about visions of her long-dead biological father, original “Scream” killer Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich). Once the NYPD, led by Detective Bailey (Dermot Mulroney), discovers the bodies of Jason and Greg and Ghostface stalks Sam and Tara in a corner bodega soon after (an encounter from which they narrowly escape), it becomes clear that the ghosts of Woodsboro are officially haunting the Big Apple.
The ‘Core Four’ Are On Their Own
Sam, Tara, Mindy, and Chad (whom Chad adorkably insists on referring to as the “Core Four”) waste no time in getting to work on their suspects’ list, which primarily includes the new additions to their friends and lovers group: Sam’s “cute boy” secret lover, Danny (Josh Segarra), Tara’s college roommate, Quinn (Liana Liberato), Mindy’s girlfriend, Anika (Devyn Nekoda) and Chad’s hopeless virgin bro, Ethan (Jack Champion).
There’s also the fortuitous, if perhaps suspicious, re-appearance of journalist Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere), last seen in “Scream 4” as that film’s main horror geek, now reintroduced as an FBI Special Agent. (Series hero Sidney Prescott does not make an appearance, given that Neve Campbell was not offered proper pay to return; her absence is explained away as Sidney going into hiding for protection and that “she deserves her happy ending,” as Gale puts it.)
While the identity of the killer (or killers) is up in the air for the bulk of the film, what is known for a fact is that this Ghostface has it out for Sam in particular. In between 2022’s “Scream” and “Scream VI,” Sam has become something of a social media celebrity for all the wrong reasons. A large group of people believes her to be the real killer behind the ’22 murders thanks to her infamous father, even though they were actually committed by Amber Freeman (Mikey Madison) and Richie Kirsch (Jack Quaid), the latter Sam’s boyfriend. Due to a heated incident with a bullying passerby caught on camera, Sam is made to look extra suspicious to the world at large, and even if the Core Four are well aware of her innocence, the authorities and others have their doubts.
After more Ghostface attacks that leave Quinn and Anika slaughtered, the group’s clandestine plans to flush out Ghostface by themselves backfires, resulting in Gale being hospitalized and the survivors unsure of who to trust.
The Collector’s Edition
Shortly before Gale’s attack, the group discovers a literal secret lair hidden in an old abandoned movie theater downtown. Although it’s registered under Jason and Greg’s names, it’s clearly the source of the old Ghostface masks that the new Ghostface has been leaving at the scenes of his crimes so far. The lair is a shrine to Ghostface and the “Stab” series in general, featuring all sorts of clothing and objects worn or used by the prior killers and victims.
That means the space is also a meta tribute to the “Scream” movies themselves. This visual metaphor continues the multi-layered conversation Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett began with the prior installment. Sam’s struggle to define herself outside of her father’s legacy mirrors the new filmmakers attempting to honor Craven and original writer Kevin Williamson while making their own mark on the franchise. In other words, where the first four “Scream” movies wrestled with the legacy of the horror genre and the slasher film in a general sense, that role has been supplanted by the “Scream” movies themselves. It’s a struggle that Hollywood is still in the midst of, too, as the proliferation of IP-driven films and television shows moves from the “requel” idea (as coined in “Scream” ’22) to the “franchise” concept, just as Mindy points out in this film.
The shrine is also a clever hint as to the ultimate identity of the killers, given who it turns out to really have belonged to: Sam’s former boyfriend, Richie, whom she violently dispatched the year prior. Once the twins have been incapacitated (Mindy on the subway, Chad soon after being trapped in the theater), it’s up to Sam, Tara, and Kirby to face the killers, as they reveal themselves to be …
Three Killers? In This Economy?
Detective Bailey, Ethan, and a very not-dead Quinn, all of whom are secretly related, and all of whom are the kin of dead Ghostface Richie. Their motivations are simple — revenge against Sam and her friends for killing their dead son/brother — though their methods have been elaborate, using Richie’s old collection of the real Ghostface masks to “countdown” to Sam’s demise while framing her for all the other murders.
Just like the faux reveal of the movie’s opening sequence, the presence of three killers is another first for the series, with the filmmakers breaking their own “rule” that Richie himself established in the prior installment as he arrogantly declared that “there are always two killers.” (Richie was already mistaken, of course, given that “Scream 3” featured only one killer — though that was not the original plan!)
Unfortunately for the murderous Bailey neé Kirsch clan, they’re facing not one but two Final Girls in Sam and Tara, and the sisters give the killers hell, with a little help from the not-quite-dead Kirby. Down the new Ghostfaces go, a trio of second-generation “fans” of the “Stab” series put out of their misery by the descendants of a character from the first film. As Sidney herself said in “Scream 4”: “Don’t f*** with the original.”
‘Scream 2’ Redux
The ultimate meta game “Scream VI” is playing with itself and its audience may seem a little obvious and even lazy, but it’s handled so cleverly and fits so neatly with the series’ tropes and themes that it’s ultimately a winning choice: namely, that “Scream VI” is a “remake” of “Scream 2,” just as 2022’s “Scream” was a “remake” of 1996’s “Scream.”
It’s an angle that, true to meta form, Mindy herself brings up during her “rules” monologue in the film, one that clearly proved too irresistible to the filmmakers to not do. To wit: “Scream 2” sees the survivors of the prior film go to college, and so does “Scream VI.” Ghostface attacks Gale solo in “Scream 2,” and does so again here. The killers in “Scream 2” included the grieving mother of Billy Loomis, Mrs. Loomis (Laurie Metcalf), and the killers in “Scream VI” are led by a grieving father of one of the prior film’s killers. “Scream 2” is also notable for featuring setpieces that are heavy on suspense (the best being Sidney’s escape from the backseat of a crashed car while an unconscious Ghostface hovers nearby), and “Scream VI” makes sure this is a focus, too: witness the harrowing bodega stalking scene, as well as the apartment window ladder bridge escape and the subway car attack.
Legacy Doesn’t Have To Be A Bad Thing … Or Does It?
What makes “Scream VI” and the new era of the franchise distinct from its predecessors, however, is the character of Sam and her relationship with the spirit of her evil father. Throughout the film, Sam struggles with visions of Billy, as he attempts to seduce her to reclaim her birthright and start committing murders. The film gives her yet another series of targets who happen to be killers themselves, further muddying the moral waters. Yet this installment begins with killers hunting and murdering a killer, too, thereby subtly implicating Sam even more than she had been in “Scream” ’22.
It’s a choice that feels compellingly old-school, as the similarly long-running franchises of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th” featured protagonists in the middle of their series runs — Alice (played by Lisa Wilcox) and Tommy Jarvis (played by Corey Feldman, John Shepherd, and Thom Mathews over three separate films) — who similarly struggled with being tempted to the dark side by their relationship to the slasher villains. For now, Sam is using her latent serial killer powers for the forces of Good, but as her many ominous, lingering looks toward the Ghostface mask (and Billy’s old mask in particular) seem to indicate, that may not last forever. What does last forever is family; relationships that can be either a blessing or a curse. Their ability to affect and control our lives (or not) is a legacy ultimately left up to us.
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/Film – Scream 6 Ending Explained: Family Is Forever
Author: Bill Bria
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March 10, 2023