It’s hard to say exactly when the Scream films turned into Murder, She Wrote with a hungrier propensity for gore and scare quotes. I’m imagining a mash-up with the teatime sleuth’s theme music laid over cheery shots of kids partying, Ghostface looming, and one of his many, many knives glinting evilly next to someone’s jugular.
At least that plinkety-plonk piano might help drown out the endless meta chat, which – to the credit of this slick sixth instalment – is mainly confined here to one midway sit-down among all the young cast, most of them survivors from last year’s “requel”. Anyone new is, naturally, an instant suspect. But perhaps the trauma they’ve lately endured has tipped one, or more, of the holdover cast into copycat psychosis.
We know the drill. A prologue involving an overqualified blonde star – Ready or Not’s Samara Weaving this time, on point as a jittery film-studies professor who rolls her eyes at slasher formulae – is going to involve nerdy phone chat and then immediately mortal danger. Instead of fictitious Woodsboro, we’ve decamped to New York City, which has pluses and minuses. When half-sisters Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega) try to evade death in a grocery store, there are several complete bystanders dragged, unusually, into the carnage.
This collateral unpredictability gives the set-pieces an extra hook – and there’s another strong one spanning the alleyway between two facing apartments, with just a horizontal ladder separating three of the girls from a franchise exit. Much, much dumber is the sequence where all must scarper communally to safety, and opt to take the subway on Halloween night, with half the other occupants Ghostfaced up and staring. Couldn’t they have stretched to an Uber XL?
Liana Liberato, as Sam and Tara’s maneater roommate, steals all her scenes with some variation on resting bitch face. You won’t find Neve Campbell showcased, because producers wouldn’t pay her enough to return, leaving “the legacy characters” solely represented by Courteney Cox’s Gale Weathers, in a luxurious penthouse.
By this point, our inner Jessica Fletchers – with assists from Dermot Mulroney’s grief-stricken cop – may have tipped us off about a stray loophole in the plot. You’ll be placing bets on which combination of characters have tag-teamed their way through murdering everyone, and possibly amazed at the sheer number of grievous lacerations to the torso that don’t result in deaths. The showdown (in the usual abandoned auditorium) is perhaps the campiest yet to be unveiled, proving that a generally-clapped-out franchise is capable of some fairly fun death throes.
18 cert, 122 min. In cinemas from Thursday March 9