There comes a time for every horror franchise when the impulse to leave behind its traditional setting for a radically different one arises. “Friday the 13th” succumbed to this desire in 1989 with the New York City set release of “Jason Takes Manhattan” — a film so poorly received by audiences and critics that Paramount eventually sold off the character rights of Jason Voorhees.
Such a drastic shift can be dangerous, but for a series like “Scream” that’s been running for nearly 30 years now, trading in the small town of Woodsboro for the Big Apple is a necessary move to avoid repetition.
“Scream VI” is a fresh and frightening slasher that justifies its leap in location, serving as a rewarding step forward for the franchise.
A year after surviving a string of gruesome killings, sisters Sam and Tara Carpenter (Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega) move to New York City to distance themselves from the violent trauma they endured. In typical slasher fashion, it isn’t long before they find themselves fighting for their lives against a more vicious Ghostface than they previously faced.
Ghostface doesn’t slash through Times Square, but the film makes the most of the city setting — unleashing gory set pieces that could make horror veterans squeamish. The iconic villain wreaks havoc in apartment buildings and packed subway cars. The unique scenery allows the movie to build a tension that persists even in moments where Ghostface isn’t present.
Both Barrera and Ortega are given better material to work with than in last year’s “Scream.” Sam’s struggle to protect her sister while grappling with her troubled history gives the movie a wonderful emotional hook. The budding relationship between Tara and Chad (an effortlessly charming Mason Gooding) grants viewers a heartwarming reprieve from all the bloodshed.
The rest of the standard “Scream” blueprint is left intact. There’s a shocking opening sequence, a new cast of characters to pad out the suspect list and an extravagant third act filled with twists and bodily injuries.
What is missing is the trademark meta-commentary that sets this series apart from other slashers.
Besides the sharp monologue delivered by Jasmin Savoy Brown’s Mindy, “Scream VI” doesn’t have much to say about the current state of horror media. Instead, the greater attention given to character work allows the film to operate on a more personal scale.
With its innovative location and unforgettable finale, “Scream VI” makes for an exciting time at the theater. It is a bit difficult to assess where the story will go from this point, but if this film proves anything, it’s that the “Scream” series still has a fair amount of terrifying surprises left up its sleeve.