Putting a writer in a cabin in the woods is a more classic setup for a horror film than starting a joke with “Knock, knock.” But Scare Me is different. It is smart, scary, and not quite like anything we have seen before.
The loose premise for the film is Fred ( played by writer/ director Josh Ruben) is a struggling advertising guy who rents a cabin in the middle of nowhere for a weekend in hopes of writing the next great American horror novel. The only problem is he has never quite done this before and the glow of the blank screen on his laptop is starting to blind him (figuratively). Jogging one morning he runs into Fanny (Aya Cash) who is a writer. A horror writer to boot. In fact, she actually did write the last great American horror novel and is in the woods to work through her next presumably great book. Fanny is funny, confident, and verbose like a caffeinated debate team, all which makes Fred not so secretly jealous.
That night the power in their cabins goes out and Fanny traipses to Fred’s spot in search of some security and a little bit of entertainment. Them being two writers in front of a fireplace, she challenges Fred to tell her a scary story.
When I say, dear reader, that this is where Scare Me gets good, I mean this is where the film showcases its unparalleled brilliance. Fred tells his story first, which is kind of about a werewolf. As he tells his tale and guilds suspense, Fanny coaches him along with the types of questions that editors ask their writers to make their stories better. But this is not shown merely words told in the fire light. As Fred gets more into his story, we are wrapped more tightly into the world through the magic of cinema. With a few small exceptions, nothing we see on screen does not also exist in that cabin on that night. However, the noises, voices, music, and camera style begin to perfectly pantomime his werewolf yarn. We are drawn into the story as if it is being told, and we are watching it unfold in front us merely through the power of his words.
This effect is incredible and immersive. As Fred and Fanny dive into this story and the ones that follow, we are hanging on their every word to see this tale through and are invested in the outcome. At one point their pizza delivery man, Carlo (Chris Redd) cannot help but get involved in the fantasies. They are gripping.
Scare Me feels like an anthology horror film, but we never leave that cabin. Both Cash and Ruben are transformative as they creep and crawl through multiple characters, while never leaving their own skin or getting an assist from special effects or even a costume change.
It is a little mind boggling that Scare Me works so well. Accusations of the dark arts or mind control are not unexpected. Truthfully, the raging success of the film really can be chalked up to great writing and direction, entrancing performances, and the gall to have little else.
Scare Me is easily one of most charming horror films of 2020. Full stop.