This is a pickle of a movie. Simple in design but surprisingly profound. So obvious in its meaning yet still managing to distract you enough that you can’t see it coming until it’s practically on top of you. On the surface, Scare Me is nothing but a fun horror flick that puts a new spin on the overused “campfire stories” trope, but its true centerpiece is the commentary on gender politics within the American Dream. More specifically, the writer’s dream.
If Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus was a wacky piece of horror fiction, and way more fun, it could be comparable to Scare Me. Coming from Josh Ruben, who not only wrote and directed the film in his directorial debut but also starred in alongside Aya Cash, Scare Me feels like the kind of film that a couple of friends thought up after having too many beers one Friday night, only better. It’s a great mix of thrill, humor, and social reflection.
(Major plot spoilers below!)
Two strangers, Fred and Fanny, are stuck in a snowbound cabin during a blackout and decide to tell scary stories to pass the time. Fanny is a successful novelist, almost too confident to be bearable, and Fred is a sad poser. He claims to be a triple threat, a writer/director/actor working on his next project, but in actuality, he is not working on anything. He’s a frustrated marketer who would rather wish upon a star than do the actual work, hoping that if he tells enough people he’s a writer it will magically come true.
Fanny, however, has achieved that dream and is proud of it. She’s written a critically acclaimed zombie novel titled “Venus,” that Fred is dangerously intimidated by. Before knowing anything about the book or Fanny herself, he scoffs at her success. “You’re not so great,” he mutters to himself.
When the power goes out, Fanny gets the idea that they should play a “friendly” competition of storytelling consisting of scary stories. “Scare me,” she demands and the game begins. Most of the film revolves around this, the two of them trying to one-up each other with their individual scary stories. They’re eventually joined by a friendly pizza deliver man, Carlo (Chris Redd), whose presence is made to both boost the film’s comedic side and highlight the increasing tension between Fanny and Fred.
The three of them go all out, crawling on the ground, growling in gravely voices to imitate the likes of dying old Slavic men and trolls named Devon. They tell five stories total (a werewolf attack, a man haunting his granddaughter, an office building inhabited by a troll, a singer possessed by the Devil, and a reenactment of Fanny’s own novel) that only get crazier as the night goes on. When viewed as a whole, these mini-plays make Scare Me feel slightly disjointed. Which normally would be a bad thing, but in this case, it’s an improvement. It makes Scare Me feel like a film within a film; dark drama beside a certifiable insane horror-comedy that connects through thin strings sewn throughout the picture.
Although their stories contain supernatural details, the true monster of the film is very set in reality and lives within one of the main characters.
It’s hard to get a proper reading on Fred until the final stretch. There are moments where he acts like an adorkable idiot that just can’t catch a break and others where you think he might be totally off his rocker. In reality, he is neither. Fred is just the average man but with a superiority complex, and with wounded pride. The word “emasculated” is probably shouted about 10 times throughout the film. All in a humorous context. But for Fred, there’s nothing funny about it.
Overall, Scare Me is an excellent addition to any Halloween watchlist. The only glaring flaw is pacing. It has a rocky beginning where it struggles to get started, and a rushed ending that, after a somewhat relaxed middle, undergoes a dramatic shift. Everything else is a blast. Every writer, successful or struggling, will relate to Scare Me on some level. Either you’re Fred, wanting the dream but incapable of finding out how to get it, or you’re Fanny, you did the work and want others to know it. I will give the film a major credit for being one of the few to actually make me tense for a moment. It only lasts a moment, this tension, but not many films can do that anymore (I’ve become desensitized) so for that, Scare Me has become quite memorable.
Photos of Scare Me by Brendan Banks courtesy of Shudder, along with Artists First, Irony Point, and Last Rodeo Studios.