I can’t do religious or mental horror. For whatever reason, I get no enjoyment at all from jump-scares, or possessions, or demonic interactions. So when I say I love horror movies – and I really, really do – I definitely mean those films that have an extra action or comedy element. For instance, I can’t wait to find time for my The Thing double-bill (2011 then 1982, for that glorious dog crossover), but I also really want to find space for Sam Raimi’s wonderfully entertaining Drag Me To Hell before Halloween is over.
I always have a little bit of trepidation when starting an unseen horror film – will it strike the right balance for me? So when I began Shudder’s Scare Me, I was wondering how far the premise would stretch before the scares came in. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried; if anything, Scare Me is much more placed as a dark comedy, but it is one that is unafraid to show its love for horror when it truly counts. It’s also one of the best films you could choose to watch for Halloween.
It’s a simple setup for what turns out to be a masterclass in performance from both leads. Fred is an aspiring horror writer who’s come to a cabin to escape his regular life and, hopefully, his apathy. His great horror novel – apparently about werewolves and revenge – is just waiting to be written, although it appears that he can’t find the words for it. His negativity and procrastination around the act of just writing is a painfully familiar state to many, if not most, writers.
So when he meets Fanny while out for a jog, and she turns out to be a best-selling horror writer whose novel Venus is the current darling of the genre, his jealousy starts brimming visibly. A chance power cut brings them together in Fred’s cabin, and Fanny challenges him to pass the time by swapping scary stories. She claims to not scare easily, and much of the night is then testing that theory.
So really, for the next hour of the movie, you pretty exclusively just have Fred and Fanny swapping stories, and its here that Scare Me truly shines. The two leads have exceptional vocal control, creating all manner of weird and wonderful character voices, but the movie doesn’t cut away to show the stories in imagined reality. Instead, it uses the actors themselves, moving through the cabin as physically different characters, transforming the small cabin into many different locations. We never see these places, but the exceptional sounds design supports the stories and brings them to life in our imaginations. The way it’s edited and directed is one of those wonderful techniques that could only be done on film, and it’s a total pleasure to watch Josh Ruben (who was also the writer and director) bouncing off Aya Cash.
Cash, is particular, is a revelation here. She can go from acerbic sarcasm to friendly jibing, starting with a razor-sharp outer shell at the beginning to gradually someone who is far softer than they pretend to be. It’s a wonderful performance, and the interludes where she takes on different character roles is a testament to her range. Her and Ruben allow their characters’ relationship to grow perfectly, framing a steady evolution from two bickering strangers to a playful couple who could easily become something more than friends.
It’s this middle section of Scare Me that is the most enjoyable. For me, it felt like that golden time in university, sitting around with horror aficionado friends and having a great time playing around with words and stories, eating pizza and drinking beer until the sun comes up. It’s this change in Fred and Fanny’s relationship – from snark to support – that proves to be the setup for the final ten minutes, where the film seeks to earn its title. It’s a twist that is not wholly unexpected, but is carried off with the same perfect sense of pace and threat.
However, even with this final sting, what leaves you as the credits roll is a film that has proven beyond doubt the amazing possibilities of people telling stories. And with Ruben’s creative, energetic direction using cuts and framing to brilliantly emphasise his story’s beats, there’s not many more enjoyable experiences to have this Halloween.