Review: ‘Scream VI,’ starring Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Mason Gooding, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Courteney Cox, Hayden Panettiere and Dermot Mulroney

March 8, 2023

by Carla Hay

Mason Gooding, Jenna Ortega, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Devyn Nekoda and Melissa Barrera in “Scream VI” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Scream VI”

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the horror film “Scream VI” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Latin, white African-American) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: The four main survivors of the serial killings in the 2022 movie “Scream” have relocated from the fictional Woodsboro, California, to New York City, where they are plagued by a new set of Ghostface Killer murders. 

Culture Audience: “Scream VI” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “Scream” franchise and horror movie sequels that make several references to its preceding movies.

Dermot Mulroney and Hayden Panettiere in “Scream VI” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Scream VI” has further cemented the “Scream” franchise as an intentionally comedic self-parody, but this entertaining movie doesn’t skimp on the horror thrills. The movie’s best scenes make up for the far-fetched revelations in the last 15 minutes. As the sixth movie in the “Scream” series, “Scream VI” is best appreciated by people who’ve seen all the previous “Scream ” movies, because there are many jokes and references to this predecessor films. However, if it’s not possible for someone to see all the previous “Scream” movies, then the 1996 “Scream” film (the one that started the series) and the 2022 “Scream” film are the two most essential moves to watch before seeing “Scream VI.”

The 2000 movie “Scream 3” added a movie-within-a-movie storyline, by creating a fictional horror movie series called “Stab,” which was inspired by what happened in the first “Scream” movie. It’s helpful, but not essential, to watch “Scream 3” before seeing “Scream VI.” What’s most important for viewers of “Scream VI” to know is that “Scream VI” gives a summary of all the revealed identities of the Ghostface Killer (who wears a creepy ghostface mask and a black hooded robe), who is a different person or people in each “Scream” movie. If you didn’t know their identities before seeing “Scream VI,” then the movie spoils all that information.

“Scream VI” reunites directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett with screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, who had the same roles for the 2022 “Scream” movie. Most of the same producers from 2022’s “Scream” are also part of the “Scream VI” team. “Scream VI” picks up one year after the events of the 2022 “Scream” movie, which took place mainly in the fictional Woodsboro, California. Four of the survivors of the Ghostface Killer murders and mayhem that happened in 2022’s “Scream” are trying to put this trauma behind them, and have relocated to New York City. (“Scream VI” was actually filmed in Montreal.)

Samantha “Sam” Carpenter (played by Melissa Barrera), who is 25 or 26, is in therapy but finds it difficult to open up to her therapist Dr. Christopher Stone (played by Henry Czerny) until a pivotal scene that’s a helpful summary for anyone who didn’t see 2022’s “Scream.” When Sam isn’t busy with her two jobs, she’s being overprotective of her younger half-sister Tara Carpenter (played by Jenna Ortega), who 18 years old and a first-year student at the fictional Blackmore University. Tara and Sam live in the same apartment building.

The other two people in this tight-knit foursome are twins Mindy Meeks-Martin (played by Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad Meeks-Martin (played by Mason Gooding), who are also first-year students at Blackmore University. The uncle of Mindy and Chad was Randy Meeks (played by Jamie Kennedy), whose fate is shown in 1997’s “Scream 2.” Mindy is a “Stab” trivia fanatic, while Chad (who was a popular athlete in high school) has a not-so-secret crush on Tara. Chad has come up with a nickname for this quartet of survivors: The Core Four. It’s a name that the other three think is corny, and the movie shows whether or not they go along with Chad’s enthusiasm to give themselves this nickname.

Three of the new characters that are introduced in “Scream VI” have gotten close to the Core Four. Tara’s free-spirited roommate Quinn Bailey (played by Liana Liberato) is having fun dating various men, but her sex life sometimes gets in the way of Tara wanting some peace and quiet. Chad’s roommate is Ethan Landry (played by Jack Champion), a socially awkward misfit who wants to be accepted by Chad and his friends. Anika Kayoko (played by Devyn Nekoda) is dating openly queer Mindy, in a fairly new romance.

As several scenes in the movie show, Tara is resentful of Sam’s hovering presence, because Tara wants to be treated like an independent adult, not a helpless child. Tara and Sam also disagree about how to cope with what happened to them in Woodsboro. Tara refuses to go to therapy, she doesn’t like to talk about what happened in Woodsboro, and she thinks Sam is living too much in the past. Sam thinks it’s detrimental for Tara to avoid getting therapy. Meanwhile, Sam becomes the subject of untrue gossip spread on the Internet that she was really the Ghostface Killer in Woodsboro.

To its credit, “Scream VI” is less cluttered with characters than 2022’s “Scream.” The movie’s opening scene continues the “Scream” tradition of someone being murdered by the Ghostface Killer, who has called that victim on the phone. The person who gets slaughtered in the opening scene is Laura Crane (played by Samara Weaving), an associate professor of film studies at Blackmore University. She teaches horror movies as part of her curriculum.

On the night that Laura is murdered, it’s close to Halloween, and many people are dressed up in Halloween costumes for parties and other Halloween festivities. Laura is not in a Halloween costume when she is seen at a bar, talking on the phone with what she thinks is her blind date for the night. The date is really a Ghostface Killer.

The “date” pretends to be lost and asks Laura to step outside the bar into an alley where he says he is. While she’s on the phone, the caller’s tone turns menacing as he snarls, “You teach a class about slashers, and you still walk into a dark alley alone.” Needless to say, Laura doesn’t last long in this movie.

Without giving away too much information, it’s enough to say that it’s revealed early on in the movie that Sam and Tara are the main targets for the Ghostface Killers. It’s also revealed that whoever is behind the murders that happen also wants to finish the “Stab” tribute movie that was started by Richie Kirsch (played by Jack Quaid), who was Sam’s boyfriend in 2022’s “Scream,” but (spoiler alert for people who haven’t seen 2022’s “Scream”), Richie turned out to be the Ghostface Killer, and Sam killed him in self-defense.

Some other characters who are part of the “Scream VI” are Blackmore University student Jason Carvey (played by Tony Revolori); Quinn’s father Detective Bailey (played by Dermot Mulroney), who is a police officer who investigates homicides; and David Brackett (played by Josh Segarra), an attractive neighbor who lives in the apartment building directly across from the apartment building where Sam, Tara and Quinn live. Sam and Tara (who has given David the nickname Hot Boy) can see directly into David’s apartment and vice versa.

“Scream VI” also has the return of ambitious and arrogant TV news journalist Gale Weathers (played by Courteney Cox), who has written a book about the events that happened in 2022’s “Scream.” Tara and Sam are furious about this book not only because Gale had broken her promise not to write a book about what happened but also because the book at unflattering descriptions of Tara and Sam.

Also making her return to “Scream VI” is Kirby Reed (played by Hayden Panettiere), who was the “final girl” in 2011’s “Scream 4.” Kirby, who is now 30 years old and an agent for the FBI, arrives in New York City to investigate this new set of Ghostface Killer murders. Kirby was a senior at Woodsboro High School when Sam was a freshman at the school. As for other familiar characters from the “Scream” franchise, Sidney Prescott (played by Neve Campbell), the original target of the Ghostface Killer, is not in “Scream VI” but is briefly mentioned as being in hiding in a safe place. Campbell went public about declining an offer to be in “Scream VI” because she felt that the offered salary was too low for her.

“Scream VI” delves more than 2022’s “Scream” did into the psychological fallout of all of these killings. “Scream VI” does a fairly good job at contrasting the ways that Sam and Tara feel about therapy, without passing judgment on either character. As already revealed in 2022’s “Scream,” Sam and Tara are the children of the late Billy Loomis (played by Skeet Ulrich), who was one of killers in the first “Scream” movie. As shown in 2022’s “Scream” and “Scream VI,” there are big indications that Sam is worried that she could have inherited a desire to become a murderer. “Scream VI” has more exploration of how Sam’s suspected “dark side” is affecting her.

The movie’s scenes with Ghostface Killer on a rampage are among the best of the “Scream” franchise. A standout scene is one that involves a ladder between buildings. Another scene that’s suspenseful is when Ghostface Killer goes after Tara and Sam in a convenience store. Meanwhile, there is plenty of sarcastic wisecracking (especially from Libby) about horror movie clichés, who the likely suspects are, and who’s most likely to be killed next. All of these self-referential jokes in “Scream VI” are sometimes to the detriment of the story. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it expects viewers to know a lot about the “Scream” movies, in order to get most of the jokes.

Barrera and Ortega, who are very believable as sisters with a love/hate relationship, are excellent additions to the “Scream” franchise. Mulroney really hams it up and delivers some of his lines in ways that are pure camp. Panettiere also gives a good performance as “all grown up now” Kirby. Cox doesn’t really do anything new with the Gale character, but she performs well in her action scenes. Savoy Brown is a sassy scene stealer with the Libby character, who has much better character development and funnier lines of dialogue than in 2022’s “Scream.”

There’s no doubt that “Scream VI” is an unapolgetic “fan service” movie that isn’t particularly accommodating to newcomers to the “Scream” movie franchise. And there isn’t anything innovative about the plot reveals, which might remind “Scream” fans of a certain previous “Scream” movie. “Scream VI” is not the best movie in the “Scream” franchise, but “Scream VI” delivers exactly what it intends: horror entertainment that serves up plenty of gore with self-deprecating laughs.

Paramount Pictures will release “Scream VI” in U.S. cinemas on March 10, 2023.

Review: ‘Avatar: The Way of Water,’ starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis and Britain Dalton

December 13, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldaña, Jamie Flatters, Britain Dalton, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss and Sam Worthington in “Avatar: The Way of Water” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“Avatar: The Way of Water”

Directed by James Cameron

Culture Representation: Taking place on Earth and on the fictional planet of Pandora, the sci-fi action film “Avatar: The Way of Water” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) portraying humans and non-humans.

Culture Clash: Jake Sully and Neytiri, the heroes of 2009’s “Avatar,” are now the leaders of the Omatikaya clan on Pandora, but Jake becomes the target of revenge for being a traitor to Earth, so he and his family escape to live with another clan on Pandora, with an old enemy in pursuit. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Avatar” fans, “Avatar: The Way of Water” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching a top-notch sci-fi film.

Sam Worthington, Kate Winslet and Cliff Curtis in “Avatar: The Way of Water” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“Avatar: The Way of Water” has set the bar even higher for sci-fi epics. The movie’s technical achievements and story surpass the first “Avatar” film. Expect to be immersed in a visually stunning world that has a lot to say about protection of families and the environment. At 192 minutes, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a more than worth the time of anyone who wants to be entertained for a little more than three hours by a magnificent achievement in sci-fi cinema.

Directed by James Cameron, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a movie that is fully appreciated if viewers have seen or know about what happened in 2009’s Oscar-winning blockbuster “Avatar,” which was also directed by Cameron. Mild spoiler alert for those who haven’t the first “Avatar” movie, which took place in the year 2154: The movie’s main hero, Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington), a wheelchair-using U.S. Marine, was assigned to be a bodyguard for Dr. Grace Augustine (played by Sigourney Weaver), the leader of the Avatar Program that gives the ability for humans to appear in the form of something else.

Jake defied the government’s plan for military people to disguise themselves as Pandora natives call the Na’vi, in order to deplete the moon planet of Pandora (located in the Alpha Centauri system) for the precious resource unobtanium. Na’vi people are a humanoid species with blue skin, and the average Na’vi adults are about 10 feet tall. At the end of the first “Avatar” movie, Jake left behind his human life on Earth to become a Na’vi.

At the beginning of “Avatar: The Way of Water” (whose screenplay was written by Cameron, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver), it is about 15 years after the first movie took place. Jake (who has fully inhabited his Na’vi body) has been happily married to Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldaña), the female Na’vi who saved his life in the first “Avatar” movie. Jake and Neytiri fell in love in the first “Avatar” movie. They now live on Pandora, where Jake is the leader of the Omatikaya clan, which lives and thrives in the forest.

Jake and Neytiri are now parents to four children: teenage son Neteyam (played by Jamie Flatters) is the “role model” eldest child; teenage son Lo’ak (played by Britain Dalton) is slightly rebellious and living in the shadow of Neteyam; adopted teenage daughter Kiri (played by Weaver) is haunted by the memories of her biological mother; and pre-teen daughter Tuk (played by Trinity Jo-Li Bliss) is friendly and playful. The four Sully kids are very close to a human named Spider (played by Jack Champion), who was orphaned by the war between the Na’vi and humans.

The movie later reveals Spider’s family background and who one of his biological parents is. Spider spends so much time with the Sully kids that he’s almost like part of the family. However, Neytiri is nervous and wary about Spider becoming so close to the kids because she doesn’t completely trust humans, who are called Sky People by the Na’vi. The humans were responsible for nearly destroying Neytiri’s family in the first “Avatar” movie. One of the survivors was Neytiri’s mother Mo’at (played by CCH Pounder), who makes a brief appearance in “Avatar: The Way of Water.”

Kiri’s origins are revealed near the beginning of the movie: She was created from the DNA of Dr. Augustine. Mild spoiler alert for those who don’t know what happened in the first “Avatar” movie: Dr. Augustine died in the first “Avatar” movie, but she makes an appearance in flashbacks in “Avatar: The Way of Water.” Throughout the movie, Kiri feels a psychic connection to that is both confusing and comforting to Kiri.

In the first “Avatar” movie, the U.S. government’s Resources Development Administration (RDA) was in charge of raiding Pandora for unobtanium because resources on Earth have diminished. The RDA still exists in “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and they consider Jake to be a traitorous enemy because of what happened in the first “Avatar” movie. As described in the “Avatar: The Way of Water” production notes: “In addition to having an armada of weaponized land, air and sea vehicles at their disposal, the RDA has brought with them a secret weapon: an elite team of soldiers resurrected as recombinants (recoms). Recoms are autonomous avatars embedded with the memories of the humans whose DNA was used to create them.”

This group of recom soldiers has been tasked with one primary mission: find and kill Jake. The leader of this mission is Recom Colonel Miles Quaritch (played by Stephen Lang), the avatar of the human Colonel Miles Quaritch (also played by Lang), who was head of RDA’s security force and Jake’s biggest adversary in the first “Avatar” movie. During this mission, the recom soldiers appear in the form of Na’vi when they go to Pandora to hunt down Jake.

Through a series of circumstances, the Sully family is are forced to leave their home. They flee to another part of Pandora, where they are taken in as refugees by the green-skinned Metkayina clan. Whereas the forest is the primary domain of the Omatikaya clan, the ocean is the primary domain of the Metkayina clan, which reluctantly lets the Sully family live with them because it’s a Na’vi tradition to help refugees of Pandora.

The leaders of the Metkayina clan are upstanding and fair-minded Tonowari (Cliff Curtis). and his compassionate wife Ronal (played by Kate Winslet), who is pregnant when this story takes place. Ronal and Tonowari tell their teenage children—daughter Tsireya (played by Bailey Bass) and older son Aonung (played by Filip Geljo)—to attempt to teach the Sully kids how to adapt to the clan’s water activities, customs and traditions. Aonung is somewhat hostile to these newcomers, while Tsireya is welcoming.

Tsireya and Lo’ak have an immediate “attraction at first sight” the first time that they meet each other. It leads to some romantic moments but also some tensions, particularly from Aonung, who clashes with and bullies Lo’ak during much of the story. The residents of Pandora have much bigger problems though, when Recom Colonel Miles Quaritch and his marauding team of soldiers invade Pandora in their hunt for Jake.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” has some of the most eye-popping and gorgeous visuals (especially the underwater scenes) that movie audiences will ever see in a sci-fi movie. In addition to the movie’s visual effects, “Avatar: The Way of Water’s” enchanting cinematography and production design are particularly noteworthy. “Avatar: The Way of Water” also has emotionally impactful stories about the connections that humans and humanoids can develop with other animals. And just like in the first “Avatar” movie, “Avatar: The Way of Water” has a very pro-environment message that isn’t preachy but is presented in a way that serves as a warning of what could happen when a planet’s inhabitants don’t take care of their planet.

The majority of the cast members in “Avatar: The Way of Water” do not appear in human form, due to visual effects, so their acting is on par with similar big-budget movies that use visual effects to alter the appearance of the cast members. However, Weaver (as Kiri) and Dalton have some standout moments as children who feel like misfits in their family and who feel like they have something to prove about their worth in their family. Champion’s portrayal of Spider is also admirable, because Spider goes through his own issues dealing with self-esteem, identity and family loyalty.

Other characters in “Avatar: The Way of Water” include General Ardmore (played by Edie Falco), a ruthless official from RDA; Captain Mick Scoresby (played by Brendan Cowell) and Dr. Ian Garvin (played by Jemaine Clement), who are recruited by RDA to help track down Jake and find more unobtanium; and scientists Dr. Norm Spellman (played by Joel David Moore) and Dr. Max Patel (played by Dileep Rao), who were allies to Jake in the first “Avatar” movie.

The “Avatar” universe is best experienced from the beginning to fully understand the nuances and developments of “Avatar: The Way of Water” and other “Avatar” sequels. “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a movie that has Oscar-worthy technical prowess, but the dialogue is a little on the simplistic and generic side. What the movie lacks in dazzling dialogue it more than makes up for in delivering a poignant, thrilling and entertaining story with a big heart that viewers will want to revisit.

20th Century Studios will release “Avatar: The Way of Water” in U.S. cinemas on December 16, 2022.

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