SCARE ME *** USA 2020 Dir: Josh Ruben. 104 mins
Here’s a cabin-confined, pandemic-released, novel take on the horror anthology format, performed with gusto. Mostly a two-hander, it has writer-actor-director Josh Ruben as writer-actor-director Fred, an ad agency worker in his late thirties holed up in a remote cabin in the snowy middle of nowhere. The film’s tone is set early on via a scene in which, beset by creepy sounds, he takes a glance down the stairs of the cabin basement, mutters “Nope” and closes the door. While alone, he jokily highlights potential parallels to Jack Torrance in THE SHINING.
During a power cut, Fred takes refuge with best selling horror novelist Fanny (Aya Cash, so good in THE BOYS), the author of popular zombie novel “Venus”. After a discussion about werewolves (“You got AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and you got everything else…”), she launches a challenge to scare each other with horror stories. SCARE ME then sees them bouncing off each other with their yarn-spilling skills, while the soundtrack provides full-on sound effects and music and the lighting shifts for dramatic effect. In between Crypt Keeper impersonations, Fred unravels a werewolf story with a nod to the POLTERGEIST tree and Fanny tells the story of a creepy old Russian grandpa and the little girl who attempts to poison him, like a “mini Paul Sheldon”.
SCARE ME’s ever-knowing, references-aplenty approach positions it as another throwback to the SCREAM era, complete with typical lines like “If this were a movie, I’d dolly in real slow about now”. The pop cultural nods are relentless – LABYRINTH, Stephen King, Gollum – and in line with the age of the characters, though the storytelling of the actors is genuinely engaging. Ultimately, it plays out more like Post Modern Halloween Night at the improv theatre than an actual movie. That said, Chris Redd steals it late in the day as a pizza delivery guy who joins in on the action via “an army of dead babies”. Plus, Fanny’s “talent show” episode provides a great showcase for Cash’s talents, especially when it segues into a full-blown music number about killing kids from the King of Hell.
Review by Steven West