Do the killers in Scream movies care if they die? I ask this because the antagonists in this series often have motives that consist of revenge, psychotic fascination, or fame. They really love fame. But there are two sides to lasting fame – one in which you get to enjoy the fruits of your celebrity and the attentive eyeballs that make you feel like a star. Then, there’s the side where you end up dead, eulogized as a martyr or a pariah. So, when you’re six installments deep in a modus operandi that has to lead to the demise of every past killer in the series, a method in itself that intentionally mimics the screenplay formula of Hollywood slasher films that usually end with the good guys winning, it makes you wonder if the killers are just delusional about their chances of survival, or perhaps deep down they’ve accounted for and accepted their destiny. If it’s the latter, then does Ghostface just have a death wish?

Scream VI is here, brandished with blistering star power from its cast, and an onslaught of marketing and hype. As of this writing, Scream VII is already announced, not that there was much doubt. Just based on pure consumer interest, this is a horror relaunch whose success only David Gordon Green’s Halloween movies could match. The new film has ditched the setting of the fictional hellscape Woodsboro, as our protagonists have left their hometown to attend college in New York City (cue overused Friday the 13th reference).

Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin (Radio Silence) are back as co-directors, and they’ve effectively made a much better film than last year’s revival. Here, things are meaner and nastier than its predecessor, but without the last film’s annoying habit of telegraphing all of its reveals. The budget is bigger, the chase scenes more thrilling, along with a game cast that seems ever more comfortable in their established roles. It also appears that the directors are more confident in their formula, thus setting up better suspects and raising more intriguing questions on what is motivating our new batch of serial killings. When a group of young people is being targeted by Ghostface, the motive all comes down to that original sin.

The surviving members, of the 2022 reboot Scream, include Chad (Mason Gooding) and Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), kin of the late Randy Meeks, with Mindy carrying on her uncle’s obsession with all things movies. But at the top of the marquee are the Carpenter sisters, Tara (Jenna Ortega) and Sam (Melissa Barrera), half-siblings whose dissimilar parentage is potentially sending both on divergent paths as they deal with the trauma of their grisly history. Tara wants to go to ragers, get fucked up, and have a memorable college experience. Sam can’t let go of her past – she struggles to even find a willing therapist that can deal with the anxiety that comes with being the daughter of famed killer Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich). She still sees visions of her dad; what was a bizarre choice in Scream 5 is handled better here. In the previous film, the movie tried a little too hard to make Billy an inspirational figure in the 3rd act. Scream VI doubles down on establishing Billy as a lunatic, his Force Ghost a little less Obi-Wan Kenobi and a lot more Norman Osborne this time around.

Sam’s relocation to the Big Apple has done nothing for her mental health – she’s the subject of conspiracy theories and harassment. Meanwhile, a city of 8 million people seems ripe for a new copycat killer. Ghostface’s inevitable return comes with an apparent devotion to the killers from all of the past movies while claiming themselves to be “something different.” Mindy quickly deduces that we’ve moved past a simple legacyquel- this is a franchise. A franchise, in this context, is a cynical designation because at that stage the only thing that matters is the survival of the IP. This means, as Mindy puts it, that legacy characters and new pillars are both easily disposable. Ghostface is the IP, the only one that matters because Ghostface is all that remains as the faces around the mask continue to change. Well, that’s a pretty depressing but overall true evaluation of modern franchise filmmaking. Even the most impenetrable characters, such as Daniel Craig’s James Bond, Tony Stark, and Luke Skywalker will all see their franchises outlive their iconic time in the spotlight.

Thus, Scream VI is something of a litmus test of how much film geek speak, lampshading, and endless references you can stomach. Fan favorite Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) makes her long-awaited return to the franchise, here to help the new school stay alive, and gets into a battle of wits with Mindy based on their horror knowledge. At one point, someone is seen watching Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989). One of the film’s best and most tense setpieces involves an encounter with Ghostface on a train, and this car has more costumes than a weekend at Comic-Con. I enjoyed seeing Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) more than I anticipated, as she’s back to shamelessly profit off the movie’s survivors. She also gets involved in a needlessly hostile but very entertaining feud with Kirby. This is the Gale I know, having more beef than a Compton rapper.

There’s a long stretch of Scream VI where it feels like the best in the franchise since the 90s, at moments maybe even since the original. The screenplay’s abundance of characters can be daunting to juggle, but the film pulls it off, establishing relationships within the new breed that are worth pushing the franchise forward. The conflict between the Carpenter sisters is at times strained, as they don’t realize that their different philosophies need to meld for the sake of their mental health. As a legacyquel, the film is a tribute to Scream 2 (1997), and mirrors Sam’s arc with Sydney’s realization that the Woodsboro murders would ensure she can’t let her guard down to have a normal life. Yet, Scream VI is more hopeful for Sam, and hopeful for romance in general. Once you become a scream Queen, your journey becomes fighting to see just how normal of a life you can lead.

However, all this goodwill to such a well done film becomes precarious once we get to the 3rd act. Scream is no stranger to absurd finales, such as Scream 4’s disastrously goofy hospital scene, or Dewey taking the butt of a knife to the dome in Scream 3. There’s nothing quite that bad here, but you can see the seams on Radio Silence’s convoluted tapestry. Including one moment where we’re just expected to buy the killer(s) can orchestrate some “Shadow Clone Jutsu” nonsense with just prosthetics, duct tape, scotch tape, and rubber cement. Even for these movies, we’re stretching reality and the incompetence of the NYPD.

Later, certain characters start uncharacteristically playing around with overly elaborate theatrics, betraying the seriousness of the carnage enacted on their friends. On the plus side, the motive here feels more personal and grounded than Scream 5’s dull railing against “elevated horror.” I will say initially, I wondered “Does the movie really expect us to care about this?” However, by movie’s end, I wanted to care and could have cared a lot more if Radio Silence indulged the moment even more. Really go over the top but emotionally resonant with how driven the killer(s) are, letting us sit in the memories and events that have led to this point. The idea is in the right place, but it needs time to breathe.

Despite all of that, Scream VI is… very good? Almost in an upset. Unlike the bad Scream sequels, the film doesn’t feel like it’s playing dress-up. It’s a movie that more acutely understands, compared to its predecessor, that Radio Silence are very different filmmakers than Wes Craven, and those differences should be embraced. Legacyquels lose steam when they can no longer maintain the balance of innovation and reverence. But this film hits that balance, a movie that has its rearview mirror perfectly aligned while simultaneously adding a new canon and legacy. This means Scream VI is very much like every Scream movie you’ve seen before, but it’s also something different.