How is the actual movie? All things considered, Scream 6 could have been a lot worse. In some ways, the frayed half-heartedness of the concept has become something of an advantage. Nobody seems particularly invested in it, least of all the filmmakers. Even the inevitable bad acting works, if only to raise our suspicions about certain characters. When someone awkwardly intones, “I got here as fast as I could,” is that an unintentionally poor line reading, or is it the directors trying to raise our doubts about whether this individual did, in fact, get there as fast as they could?

Scream 6 does distinguish itself in the horror set pieces. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (who also made the previous entry) clearly grasp that these movies are, at their best, mean. Moving the setting to New York City, where sisters Tara and Sam Carpenter (Jenna Ortega and Melissa Barrera, returning from the previous film) have now settled, turns out to be a somewhat inspired choice.

The filmmakers use New York (or rather, the movie’s version of New York, which happens to be Montreal and doesn’t actually look anything like New York) fairly well. There’s an admirably tense sequence set on the subway. It’s Halloween, so of course the trains are packed with people in costumes, many of them dressed as Ghostface, which might be believable to anyone who has never set foot in New York City. There’s a particularly nasty, not to mention ludicrous, bit of business conducted between two apartments across an alleyway from each other. Courteney Cox, returning as ambitious TV journalist Gale Weathers, gets chased around her fancy apartment in a suspenseful sequence filled with elaborate pratfall. The opening murder, in which Samara Weaving plays an associate film professor waiting for a blind date, offers a crafty twist on the introduce-a-familiar-face-and-kills-them-right-away motif that runs throughout the series.

I found myself gripped by enough of Scream 6 that I imagine fans of the series will embrace it. In a world where just about any movie that turns a profit, and even some that do not, now requires a follow-up, it does seem churlish to complain about one particular horror franchise that has been producing mostly successful entries for more than two decades. And if one of the great purposes of art is to describe and help us make emotional sense of the real world, maybe that’s enough. Maybe the final joke of the Scream movies is not that the characters are living in a repetitive and cruel world.