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Sundance 2020: Scare Me Review

You would be hard-pressed to come up with a better premise for a midnight movie than Scare Me. The title says all you need to know.

Scare Me, from writer-director Josh Ruben, is a creepy two-hander starring Ruben (Fred) and Aya Cash (Fanny), who play a couple of strangers stuck in a cabin in the woods at night during a power outage. Fred is an aspiring writer who leaves the city to escape distraction as he churns out that killer werewolf revenge story rattling around in his head. Fanny is a best-selling horror author searching for material for her next hit.

After both their cabins suffer power outages, Fanny swings by Fred’s place to help pass the time. With nothing to do while alone in the dark, they tell each other scary stories. It’s here where Scare Me hooks you or loses you completely.

Scare Me isn’t an anthology film in the same vein as Creepshow or The Twilight Zone: The Movie. The action never cuts away from Fred and Fanny to tell a separate story. Instead, you stay with them as they act-out each scary tale, improv style. They whisper, shout, and make silly faces as they try to outdo each other by spinning creepy yarns.

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Both actors REALLY go for it, and I found most of their performances over the top to the point of being obnoxious (and I’m a big Aya Cash fan). Every time the story had its hooks in me, the characters’ zany theatrics ripped me right back out.

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It’s not all bad, though. I enjoyed Ruben’s choice to spice up each story with ghoulish special effects. As Fred tells his sorry-ass werewolf story, a menacing claw emerges from the shadows as if the blood-thirsty beast is actually inside the room with Fanny. There are also loads of non-diegetic sound effects (like guts spilling) that add punch to each story. It evokes the feeling of listening to an audiobook or an old-timey radio program.

Fanny and Fred’s macabre stories periodically take a backseat to what the film really wants to discuss; wokeness, resentment, and white male privilege.

Fred isn’t where he wants to be in life, and he’s not taking it well. He’s single, out of work, and a weak writer. Rather than look inward, it’s easier to blame his sad existence on others. If people weren’t obsessing over pronouns or cancelling great white men, the runway would be clear for Fred to take off and live his best life. That’s not true, but that’s what Fred and too many men like him believe.

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In Fred’s eyes, levelling the playing field for the disenfranchised means less opportunity for him. Since Fred has so little to show for himself after his life bottomed out, he’s boiling over with resentment. When Fanny, a rich and famous female author, shows up at his doorstep, it’s a slap in the face. It’s not that Fanny is a threat — they’re not even in the same league career-wise — it’s that she made good on Fred’s dream.

Fanny puts her blood, sweat, and tears into achieving what Fred only procrastinates about. What terrifies the guy is that Fanny accomplished his dream despite lacking his white male privilege. If she could overcome sexism and misogyny to succeed, what is his excuse?

Scare Me stretches its storytelling premise too thin to sustain this 104-minute film. Both actors’ schticks get old all too quick. The film does have its moments, but for every fun sequence, there are five more that leave you shaking your head. Kooky performances and a bloated runtime make this horror-comedy a chore to sit through.



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