Shudder Original Scare Me sees “two strangers tell scary stories in a Catskills cabin during a power outage“, It’s a simple enough premise to follow, right? For a contemporary horror film, it might seem like a basic plot stripped of advanced effects and modern-day poignancy, but when the idea is placed in the right hands it can become so much more. Writer and director Josh Ruben (Green Beret’s Guide To Surviving The Apocalypse) uses the very bare-bones concept description to extend his craft of improvisation and storytelling to horrific heights in his Shudder Original, Scare Me.
Starring Aya Cash (The Boys), Chris Redd (SNL), and Rebecca Drysdale (Key and Peele) alongside Ruben in the lead, the film tackles the challenges of creativity, the crippling confrontation of fears, and presenting originality within and through its film medium.Scare Me is a great idea, it is greatly executed, and it even has a greater meaning hidden beneath the logline.
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You Scare Me, I’ll Scare You
Josh Rubenstars as Fred Banks, a painfully average man struggling with his inability to create the next big horror story. Self-described as a writer, director, and actor, Fred is a very interesting character choice for the main focus of Scare Me. Ruben writes such a relevant representation of contemporary white male privilege starting with an initial tug of empathy that progresses to a bitter wave of inflection all the way through to biting, dangerous resentment. Borderline likable, thanks to Ruben’s unstoppable charisma, Fred is a brilliant application of a well-hidden villain waiting in the brightly lit corner of the room to strike. His battle with inspiration and the expectation he has forged in forced creativity makes him such an original role that viewers may not see his outright indignation right away.
Enter Fanny. Aya Cash is a worthy opponent (so to speak) of Ruben’s if there ever was one. Her ability to jump into the narrative and take control of it immediately speaks to her character’s purpose and Cash’s magnetic performance. She is conceited, rude, and confident but she is also powerful, independent, and talented. As a best selling author, Fanny has already achieved the status that Fred craves. Purely under happenstance, they are brought together in an immersive evening that exposes the best and worst parts of the aspiring artistic drive. Creativity is the overall prescient matter and the ways in which these two characters argue, bargain, and manipulate it throughout Scare Me is a fresh genius all it’s own.
“…Scare Me is physical acting in its truest, most genuine form and it delivers one wild night full of scares.”
Being foils to one another, Fred and Fanny have a very divisive dynamic from the start of Scare Me. As strangers turned on by instant competition and judgement, their chemistry (or lack thereof) automatically sets up an intriguing situation. Though Ruben and Cash are an absolute joy to watch onscreen and their synergized presentation is a commendable act of entertainment, the slowly building nature of their animosity is a dark lingering reminder of their individual roles and purpose in this film. Their instances of teamwork offer endearing bits of relief that allows the narrative enough room to really unfold, but their adverse relationship ultimately sets the stage for their motives to perform within the same space.
Fred and Fanny’sconstant pokes and prods at their respective egos adds both appropriate humor and character agency to the film’s minimal composition. Giving weight to topical feminist figures in both the media and in the real world, Cash’s FannyAddie is an inspired novelist who is living her dream with the ability to apply relevancy and empathy to her work much to the opposition of Frank’s souring attitude. Introducing storytelling that incorporates depth and meaning, Fanny brings gender politics to the table for the two to chew on. As they morph themselves into characters and monsters, the fires of competition are delicately stoked.
Scare Me channels a light meta focus on originality as it is an especially unique filmmaking venture in itself. Urging viewers to use their imagination, the trio of Josh Ruben, Aya Cash, and later Chris Redd use tremendous voice manipulations, physical facial expressions, and incredible spatial application to turn their scary stories into fully formed film segments. Whether role-playing some character favorites or creating their own, the actors’ faces and voices are brilliantly used to paint a picture for the audience. Sound effects are realistically manufactured to supplement instances of slow motion, howls, splatter, screams, squeaks, creaks, snarls and everything in between just as if the narrative was portraying the stories themselves.
Using raw acting to grab and captivate, Scare Me is physical acting in its truest, most genuine form and it delivers one wild night full of scares. The amusing quirk and quick humor burst through the dialogue as Ruben, Cash, and Redd transform themselves into the makings of their stories. There is no blood and there are only a select few visual enhancements added, but it’s surprisingly unnoticeable when it comes to the job of producing subjects of gore and terror. Aside from a score to add some drama, the visuals all rely on the characters’ wickedly impressive performances. Viewers never really question whether or not the addition of artificial visual effects and sounds is necessary for a film, but Scare Me makes it seem possible that with the right talent we’d never need them again.
“The surrounding limitations seemingly disappear around them as their variety of scary stories take over the cabin…”
Like any good showing of improvisation, Scare Me takes a very practical concept and greatly expands on it with little to no additional means outside of performers. Set exclusively in a secluded cabin and trapped by a raging winter storm, Fred and Fanny make the most of their environment to entertain themselves and the audience alike. The majority of the film takes place in a single common area as the two tell their tales, but somehow the stories take observers off to different scenes without cutting away to alternative settings or manifesting what is not already there. Fred and Fanny bring their visions to life physically on their own and efficiently use the space they are given to carry out their interactions.
The surrounding limitations seemingly disappear around them as their variety of scary stories take over the cabin and become one with the film’s narrative. Effects within the common area tell the story along with the characters, supplementing the slight notes of isolation and makeshift theatrics. Shadow play, brief movement throughout the house, and palpable energy all turn one location into a subject of many. Ruben utilizes the confines of the cabin to establish an intimate tone, turning one-man vignettes into grand segments that seem to embody spaces beyond the living room.
I Love Being Scared
Beginning, middle, and end all typically make up a majority of film formats that intend to tell a story. Scare Me, based in the art of storytelling and the writing process, uses its own format to elevate those very praised practices as a fixed collection. Fred, as the main protagonist, is stuck on developing an idea and when he finds himself stuck with a woman, Fanny, who is full of them. When they decide to tell each other scary stories to ride out the storm together, their wacky fireside theater sheds light on Fred’s resentment of Fanny’s natural flair. Fanny, assuredly pointing out plot holes and mistakes, teaches Fred to conceptualize the stories in meaning and detail turning the daunting activity into fun collaboration.
The detail put into the individual stories they take turns acting out, down to cinematography style and directing technique, orchestrates a series of spooks revolving around more relevant subject matter at their cores. While it’s not directly obvious, all of the individual stories revolve around a woman being controlled, killed, or tormented by a male figure in one form or another. Ruben expertly uses novel tropes, archetypes, and motifs to engage, entertain, and educate the audience. Peppered with horror movie references from Labyrinth to Jaws to The Shining, Scare Me is a sincere, resourceful love letter to general creativity penned to the artists who suffer and struggle with it as a passion.
“Josh Ruben’s Scare Me is a triple threat exercise in extreme storytelling that needs to be seen and heard for itself to be fully appreciated.”
In one of its most commendable feats of storytelling, Scare Me coherently disguises itself as an anthology stabilizing a strong wraparound story tied to the collection in the middle. It’s a unique, experimental modernization of the format that also serves the purpose of its major themes. As an inventive anthology, Scare Me never gives too much away with its alternating perspective which keeps viewers on their toes and at the edge of their seats with enthusiastic mystery. Aside from its awesome visual, auditory, and tactile conventions at play to entertain, Ruben’s film seeks to expose the “nice guy” issue and empower the voices of those who do the work.
Flipping the roles of hero and villain, Fred is emasculated by Fanny’s successful fame outrightly and internally, creating a linear narrative that might be the creepiest story of them all. The finale’s dark turn builds up throughout the evening as gender inclusion and indignation steal the spotlight and begin to form a real scary story that plagues the arts (among other camps) still today. The eventual culmination of horror civics, artistic identity, and circumstantial opportunity bring the film together as a whole with a deeply topical treatment. Scare Me not only passes the Bechdel Test, it cleverly reinvents it.
Josh Ruben’s Scare Me is a triple threat exercise in extreme storytelling that needs to be seen and heard for itself to be fully appreciated. While it runs a full hour and 44 minutes, which may seem condemning to some, the acts all play out in well-paced slots with a killer wraparound that neatly satisfies in the end. The performances hit every mark, the thrills are earned, and the message is clear. Josh Ruben has entered the horror genre scene with an obvious abundance of creativity to share with current audiences that are eager to hear, and see, a good scary story.
Scare Me is currently streaming on Shudder. What are your thoughts on Scare Me? What do you think about the performances of Josh Ruben, Aya Cash, and Chris Redd? What’s your favorite scary story that was acted out? Let us know your thoughts over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!