★★★★ out of ★★★★★
How’d you like a little Chekhov with your Texas Chainsaw? A little Edward Albee with your Conjuring? Or even a dash of Ibsen with your Insidious? Sound too good to be true? Well it’s not.
Directed by, written by, and staring Josh Ruben.
Shockingly and we do mean shockingly, Scare Me is a legitimate film. One that horror fans can fawn over and upright theater going know-it-alls can lovingly dissect. It’s a film that really has an interesting bit of everything, but unfortunately gets marketed as run-of-the-mill horror comedy.
Scare Me is largely a one-room play set in the rural confines of northeast LL Bean land. The film simply and elegantly follows Fred (Josh Ruben), a failed writer who’s convinced that a little secluded rest and relaxation will magically generate the great American novel — about a werewolf revenge tale. Fred’s plans are quickly foiled after a) he begins to come to grips with the fact that he’s not JD Salinger, and b) while on a mind-clearing run he has a chance encounter with first time horror writer and cause celebre, Fanny (Aya Cash). Just so happens that Fanny is failed Fred’s next door neighbor and she too is doing a little writing respite.
Fanny sizes up Fred as the failure that he is and while he desperately tries to escape her prescient clutches the two are brought together by a storm and a subsequent power outage. Fanny and Fred seek shelter in his cabin and begin a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf-like game of trying to freak each other out of their skin. The barbs, criticism, and intellectual dismemberment comes fast and is unrelenting. Fred’s self confidence is under the microscope and Fanny is having none of his poor phrasing, half-baked ideas, and lack of a story-teller’s panache.
The premise is simple — Scare Me. That’s all Fanny asks of Fred. Scare her. Tell her a story so frightening that it would shake a hardened horror writer to their core. What evolves is a fascinating three — technically four — act play where Fred and Fanny cover the werewolf revenge story, a creepy grandfather, and a demonically possessed reality show singer.
The two eventually become famished from their spontaneous horror chronicles and order a pizza. Enter act three, the pizza delivery guy, Carlo, perfectly played by SNL’s Chris Redd. Full of wild tales, countless beers, and several bottles of wine, the trio kicks the story telling soirée in to overdrive with a pile of cocaine courtesy of Fanny’s writing fame. The story becomes blurred, wild, and sweaty. Replete with an on-the-spot musical number and a wild conclusion, Carlo realizes that his final pizza delivery is several hours overdue.
With Carlo gone, Fred and Fanny are forced to deal with each other, their own vices and neurosis, and a handful of very dark and very sinister hidden agendas. Nicely framed through the prism of the MeToo movement and white male fragility, the largely inane series of stories grows incredibly evil. But don’t be turned off, there’s a wonderful wrap around that you may or may not see coming. Full disclosure: I never see these things coming.
In an age of overwrought indie horror films searching for emotional pathos, Scare Me is a bright and interesting light. It doesn’t portend to tell us that this is the new way forward for horror, but pleasantly reminds us that this is what horror can be.
Scare Me is likely Rated R and is currently streaming on Shudder.