Screaming for Mercy

You’ve seen it before: A horror movie that begins with the camera firmly planted on an attractive blonde who suddenly receives a phone call. The voice on the other end is seductive and mysterious; gradually, it lures her into a trap. There’s a flash of steel, an eruption of blood, then a screech of horns or strings as a title card appears.

But Scream VI, initially at least, is smart enough to subvert such a conventional approach. Its opening sequence slices the original film’s introduction to pieces, rearranging them into something strikingly fresh. The familiar female victim is present, but only momentarily. What replaces her should be seen rather than spoiled, and it’s guaranteed to hook even the most jaded horror connoisseur. The opening skirts predictability, revealing itself delicately. When the final twist arrives, the only appropriate response is a mixture of surprise and delight at the inventive viciousness on display.

It’s the most exciting opening to a Scream film since the original, rivaled only by Scream 4’s reality-bending prelude. And the ingenuity it demonstrates on behalf of directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett is particularly shocking considering the near total absence of good ideas that defined their previous entry in the series. Last year’s Scream (irritatingly branded without a “V”) was a disastrous melange of vapid satire, colorless characters, and nauseating nostalgic pandering. Its script, unsullied by such qualities as coherence or wit, was so obsessed with appearing self-referential that it failed to create any actual tension, or to attempt anything even moderately adventurous. 

When Scream VI was announced, it seemed the duo intended to degrade the franchise even further. A sixth film, released little more than a year after the last and set in New York City—the idea evoked Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, a desperate effort to sustain a property that had already become its own best parody. But in practice, the shift in setting is refreshing rather than gimmicky. By embracing an environment so far removed from the woody sprawl of Northern California, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are able to construct unique set pieces that offer more thrills than the usual chases through suburban houses. 

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