If the last “Scream” movie made noise by wedding the old with the new, “Scream VI” reinforces how shrewd the producers were in casting the next generation, with Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega ably carrying this chapter of horror’s most self-referential franchise. Throw in a new venue and the same old thrills and kills, and Paramount should be slashing all the way to the bank.
The ad campaign makes a little too much, in a “Start spreading the news” kind of way, of shifting the action to New York City. While that does provide some fresh wrinkles (on the subway, no one can hear you you-know-what), slicing and dicing up the Big Apple doesn’t do anything significant to shake up the basic formula.
Fortunately, the city that never sleeps is now home to Tara (Ortega, red hot from her “Wednesday” role), who’s attending college there, and her sister Sam (“In the Heights’” Barrera), who is keeping a watchful eye over her sibling, including her willingness to tase anyone who might invade her space.
The central quartet also includes holdovers and fellow Woodsboro survivors Chad (Mason Gooding) and Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), the latter being the keeper of the “We’re going to recite the rules” monologue. A year has passed since their last adventure with a killer Ghostface, which has left everyone with an understandable case of “trust issues.”
Although Neve Campbell sits out this latest film, Courteney Cox returns along with Hayden Panettiere, which mostly serves as an excuse for a wide assortment of callbacks and winks toward “Screams” past. Still, given the focus on the younger contingent, the baton feels as if it has been passed.
As usual, the fewer questions asked the better, starting with how much blood someone can lose from multiple stab wounds and still be ambulatory. But enough of the jokes land to tickle hard-core fans, and the producers did themselves an enormous favor with the pairing of Barrera and Ortega, who bring just the right mix of eyebrow-arched cynicism, genuine chemistry and last-girl badassery to their sister act.
Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett return to the helm, and despite the limits associated with this sort of exercise, their affection for the franchise is clearly evident.
After three “Scream” movies in four years starting in 1996, the franchise took a break until 2011 (then featuring Panettiere), with a similar gap until last year’s revival.
Although the layoff helps explain the enthusiasm that greeted “V,” it’s naïve to think “Scream” will again experience lengthy periods of dormancy. Because for a franchise that likes to talk about the rules of horror, they don’t articulate the bottom-line consideration here: That is, as long as you can keep reliably luring people to theaters, there’s not a ghost of a chance that you’ll be gone for long, any more than you need to worry about running out of bodies or Roman numerals.
“Scream VI” premieres March 10 in US theaters. It’s rated R.