Director: Josh Ruben
Starring: Josh Ruben, Aya Cash, Chris Redd, Rebecca Drysdale
Run Time: 104mins
“Scare Me” is the feature debut from writer/director and “CollegeHumor” regular Josh Ruben. As you may expect from his background, it is a comedy-horror although it is not as out-and-out wacky as possibly expected.
Fred (Ruben) is a struggling would be writer who has gone to a cabin in the Catskills to write his Werewolf epic After he gets there he bumps into Fanny (Aya Cash) a mega-successful horror novelist who is also on writing retreat. They are brought together by a power outage where they both tell each other scare stories.
Pre-power outage things start well enough. The film's opening with a very opening scene where Fred is harangued about his writing by a motor mouthed taxi driver (Rebecca Drysdale) who lo-and-behold also wants to be a writer. Also, the sort-of “meet-cute” (I say sort of as it is clear very early on nothing romantic is going to happen here) between Fred and Fanny is fun and neatly establishes their character dynamic as well as demontstrating Cash and Ruben's playfully spiky on-screen chemistry together.
It is post-power outage that problems starts to set in. Well, not straightaway initially there is some fun to be had in watching the two act out scary stories. Both Cash and Ruben are talented comic performers and have a flair for both mimicry and sound effects. So, as an acting showcase, it is great. However, the stories themselves are not scary at all (a bit disappointing given Fanny’s character apparently wrote the “best horror book of all time”). Nor are they laugh out loud funny. To be fair though, there are comic gems within each story and there are some delightful meta jokes about the rules of horror and filmmaking scattered throughout.
The real problem of the initial storytelling segment is the pacing. Post-power outage the movie slows down and any plot drive it may have had evaporates the longer it goes on. The lack of plot drive would be fine if we dug deeper in to the characters but we only get glimpses of who Fred and Fanny are beyond sad-sack wannabe writer and charmingly snarky successful novelist. This ambiguity is obviously deliberate as these two strangers feel each other out, but it becomes a source of frustration.
The other major issue is one of tone. As Ruben never seems to settle on how creepy or funny or serious any of this is supposed to be. At times it veers into the out-and-out goofy, at others it seems to go for the slightly uneasy, and at yet others there is a serious commentary on toxic masculinity. All of which directions show promise, but the film never fully commits to any of them and the mix sits uneasily together.
In terms of momentum, proceedings pick back up again with the introduction of a pizza delivery guy called Carlo (Chris Redd). Who re-injects some much needed energy into things. It is here that the film is at its most playful and outright funny. We even get a very entertaining, musical number and you feel Ruben should have leaned into this goofball tone more.
Also, while not wanting to give any spoilers, there is a late –in-the-day left turn that doesn’t work out at all. Even with this turn being seeded throughout the movie it feels rushed and once again tonally seems out of place.
Overall: A fitfully entertaining debut which shows Ruben as a potential talent and showcases both himself and Cash as skilled comedic actors. Ultimately though, it is neither funny nor scary enough to fully work and there is simply not enough story here to fill its overstretched 104 minute running time.
"Scare Me" is available on Shudder from October 1st