"Somebody call 911," a bloodied character cries in "Scream VI."
The trouble is it's 90 minutes into the grisliest, slaughteriest entry in the series, and it's the first time it occurs to anyone that it might be a good idea to get an ambulance.
There is a serious lack of reaching out to emergency services throughout the movie, even though the characters are often getting sliced up by Ghostface, the killer who changes from movie to movie but always wears the same get-up. Still, credibility has never been the strong suit of "Scream," a franchise that's more about improbable, even goofy, variations on a gruesome theme.
"Scream VI" is a sequel to a requel — and, in typically meta fashion, one of the characters in the movie identifies it as such.
Small-town sisters Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega, Netflix's Wednesday) are the chief targets, as they were in "V," which was confusingly called just "Scream." Now they go to college in Manhattan, which gives Ghostface a much larger pool of potential victims, including Courteney Cox's TV reporter Gale Weathers. She's the lone person remaining from the original "Scream," give or take a spectral appearance by another legacy character.
Sam and Tara didn't grab me in "V," which often felt like an awkward bridge from one phase of the franchise to the next. But this time, Barrera and Ortega take over confidently, their characters resolving not to run from the new iteration of Ghostface but to confront him. They have help from Weathers, as well as a couple of pals who survived their stab wounds in the last movie, as well as a New York cop played by Dermot Mulroney and Hayden Panettiere, who has graduated from potential victim in "IV" to FBI agent now.
To its credit, "VI" has fun with how unlikely that seems.
Returning from last year's entry, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett aren't as into the in-jokes that have been a staple of "Scream" movies, tilting this one toward knife-in-the-eye gore. But they know how to generate legitimate suspense in set pieces, including a thrillingly inventive escape from an apartment after Ghostface drops in and a murderous encounter on a subway car in which Ghostface moves closer to his victim each time the lights flash off, then on.
There are lots of references to previous "Scream" movies and characters, so many that I doubt "VI" will appeal to anyone who's not already familiar with the setup. Essentially, the characters are in a scary movie and they know the rules of being in scary movies, but they still forget not to sit alone in the dark or answer unexpected calls (one missed opportunity for a joke: Instead of the "Scam Risk" warning that pops up when we get unwanted calls, the movie's characters should get "Scream Risk" warnings when Ghostface calls).
As bloody and pop-culture-obsessed as the "Scream" series is, it's really not much different from classic Agatha Christie, where the goal is to dazzle us with unlikely but semi-plausible solutions. "Scream VI" cycles through nearly the entire cast as possibilities for whodunit but, when we finally know it, the solution is both improbable and entertaining.
**1/2 out of 4 stars
Rated: R for grisly violence and strong language.
Where: In theaters.