Aya Cash as Fanny
Josh Ruben as Fred
Chris Redd as Carlo
Rebecca Drysdale as Bettina
Written and Directed by Josh Ruben
Scare Me Review:
Even in some of its wildest and most exhilarating efforts, such as Scare Package and Southbound, the horror anthology genre does tend to follow some tropes and formula in delivering their terrifying tales but with Josh Ruben’s feature debut Scare Me, the writer/director has stripped the concept down to its most minimal basis of simply telling a scary story and it proves to be a brilliant new path for the subgenre.
Fred (Josh Ruben), a frustrated copywriter, checks into a winter cabin to start his first novel. While jogging in the nearby woods, he meets Fanny (Aya Cash), a successful and smug young horror author who fuels his insecurities. During a power outage, Fanny challenges Fred to tell a scary story. As a storm sets in, they pass the time spinning spooky tales fueled by the tensions between them, and Fred is forced to confront his ultimate fear: Fanny is the better storyteller. The stakes are raised when they’re visited by a horror fan (Chris Redd) who delivers levity (and a pizza) to the proceedings.
The setup for the film is one that could’ve worked beautifully in a more traditional anthology, with the film transitioning into each tale written and directed by its own filmmakers, but the more simple nature of having Fred and Fanny face off and play off of each other’s critiques and praises to deliver the most effective tale proves to be a thrilling and hilarious new way of doing so. Creating their own sound effects, standing tall and delivering bombastic performances like some of the most enthusiastic storytellers of all time breeds some of the film’s funniest moments as well as some of its quietly chilling and, even with a runtime of only 104 minutes, helps keep the pace of the film feeling fast and exciting, never losing its grip on viewers.
In a time in which we are all looking for a good fright, aside from the fright that is the state of the country, the film’s minimalist setting and filmmaking actually feels perfectly timed for current audiences, as many are more than likely gearing up to tell each other spooky tales around the virtual or socially distant fireplace. The way Ruben blends adding occasional effects that are blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shocks, such as a demonic hand wrapping around a pole before disappearing and returning as Fred’s human arm, is such a nice touch of tapping into the mentality of being so involved in storytelling that the listener’s mind tricks them into seeing what’s being described.
Another of the brilliant elements of the film is its character work and not-so-subtle feuding between the frustrated Fred and the self-approving Fanny, a feud born out of the former’s feeling of inadequacies in comparison to the latter’s success. Jealousy for one’s success is generally seen between members of the same sex or else have it be a far more antagonistic relationship between opposite sex members jealous of one another and yet the way Ruben establishes Fred’s envy and how it plays into both his and Fanny’s actions feels fresh and pretty authentic. There’s certainly nothing wrong with men having some jealousy for anyone, men or women, and their success, it’s a plenty natural feeling to have, but with so many men going to gross lengths to shut down powerful and successful women, the way Ruben gets the viewer to simultaneously dislike and care about Fred and his future is a balancing act he handles really well both in front of and behind the camera.
The performances on the central duo, as well as the supporting turn from the always hilarious Saturday Night Live and Popstar comic Chris Redd, also really helps keep audiences invested in the characters and their storytelling. Between You’re the Worst, The Boys and other projects, audiences are certainly used to seeing Cash take on self-absorbed or smug characters and yet something about her turn as Fanny that feels fresh for her and so compelling to watch from start to finish as her behaviors prove endlessly unpredictable as the story progresses.
Scare Me might falter a bit with its ending but thanks to its brilliant and theatrically minimalist approach to the anthology formula, some fascinating characters and brilliant performances from Ruben, Cash and Redd, this is an absolute blast from start to finish that is sure to thrill both genre enthusiasts and general viewers alike.