Best known as a comedian, actor/writer/director Josh Ruben (College Humor, Werewolves Within) tries his hand at something a bit more serious with his feature debut, Scare Me. Actually. Both statements might be stretching things a bit. While it is feature-length, Scare Me is something like an anthology film, and it’s not without a strong dose of humour.
Fred (Josh Ruben) is a copywriter who wants to become a real writer. So, he’s rented the cliched isolated cabin to force himself to write. On his morning jog, he meets one of his neighbours, Fanny (Aya Cash, The Boys, Mary Goes Round). As it so happens, she’s the author of a best-selling horror novel, something she takes great delight in holding over him.
After a power outage leaves them with nothing else to do, they decide to see who has the best scary story to tell in the dark. The two-character story becomes a threesome with the arrival of Carlo (Chris Redd, Saturday Night Live, Deep Murder) the pizza delivery guy. But as the night wears on, the horror threatens to become real.
Scare Me has a great idea, the two writers telling, and acting out their stories in the firelit cabin. It lets Ruben and Cash show off their skills with dialogue and body language as they tell them. And their more conventional acting chops as things become a bit tense, shifting gears from fun storytelling and critique to competition.
This is bolstered by some excellent sound work and a few brief practical effects. The sound really punches up the stories, like an old-time radio drama. They combine well with the actor’s delivery of the tales to help you visualize the story. The effects are just icing on the cake, a brief inhuman shadow on a wall, a sudden glimpse of fangs, etc. It’s quite effective in the manner of a filmed stage play.
Unfortunately, Ruben very nearly derails the film with a horrible attempt at social commentary. Fanny is so over the top with her empowered female gender politics I would have thought it was meant to be satirical if I hadn’t read the director’s statement.
SCARE ME was my opportunity to embody this toxic and true dynamic, one which examines what it means for a man to be creatively competitive with a woman as he also feels emasculated by her.Josh Ruben
On top of which she’s an obnoxiously smug bitch. She’s barely in Fred’s cabin when she says she doesn’t like talking about her projects. Why? Because people will steal them, “Especially desperate white dudes like you.” That’s pushing at as a humorous comment to somebody she’s just met, and she’s not being funny. I’d have sent her packing at that point. The points Scare Me wants to make are valid. But by embodying them in somebody so unlikable the film achieves the opposite of its aim. Honestly, she’s the kind of person you want to say something offensive to just to make sure she never speaks to you again.
At 140 minutes, Scare Me runs long and starts to feel it. The twist at the end is neat but doesn’t seem worth the wait. Ruben really needed to trim some of the slower moments out or make the characters less grating.
In the end whether or not you’ll like Scare Me is really up to your taste and tolerance. I found the basic idea and much of the execution of the stories enjoyable and impressive. But the botched attempt at support for #MeToo and dead spots in the narrative hurt.
Scare Me is available on AMC’s Shudder streaming platform. If you have it then it might be worth checking out if you’re looking for something unconventional.