In a world where visual story telling reigns supreme, the campfire story remains a pure art form. On dark and spooky nights, people gather around for horrid tales that come to life from the lips of a teller to the ears of the frightened. The voices, the suggestions of scares, and visual facial cues are all one has to mine for frights. These are the things Josh Ruben exploited for his twist on the horror film, Scare Me.
Scare Me isn’t your average ‘cabin in the woods’ horror flick, in fact, that backdrop doesn’t even come close to dancing with that genre’s tropes. This one is about the freaky stories swapped by Fanny (Aya Cash), a successful horror author, and Fred (Josh Ruben) an aspiring one. Fred’s a bit of a phony with an out of reach dream. To feel like a real writer, he books himself a stay in a remote cabin so he can work on his horror story. On a run, he meets Fanny, a horror author with the glow of success, and he immediately wants to befriend her as a response to his envy. After a winter storm kills the power in their cabins, Fanny moseys over to Fred’s and suggests the two swap scary stories.
What makesScare Me different from anything you’ve seen before is the way writer/ director Ruben uses the literal to reflect the figurative. Ruben forcing his voice deep to mimic a wolf is layered with an SFX wolf voice, and is a play to our imagination the way you’d expect from a lost boys dinner in Hook; imagination manifests as on-screen reality. It’s such a clever twist on the usual filmmaking that breaks the “show don’t tell” rule like a pro.
Ruben, of College Humor fame, is seasoned and known for his character work and simple impressions and bits, using his phone to capture short sketches of isolated gags (seriously, his Instagram is a buffet of face-based hilarity). Knowing this, I was not surprised but remained impressed by what he was able to do as Fred. Firstly, he plays the ‘over-confident then suddenly bumbling dork who is trying to fake it’ so well, you’d have to see other vids of him to know it wasn’t genuine. His work as jumping into the role of the characters in the scary stories he tells is so excellent and sells the bit of the film so well. But Aya Cash completely steals the show. Cash has done some great projects, including recently showing up on Amazon’s titan, The Boys, but this is the role that really shows what she’s made of. Cash, as the snappy successful writer, barking workshopping notes at Fred, is an absolute treasure. While telling her stories, she snaps back and forth between narration, characters and making spooky sounds without a cut in sight in ways that will hold up against Leonardo DiCaprio rattling through multiple emotions in one take in Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood.
Ruben has a great ability to write dialogue, and it’s a blast seeing him use what we can guess is from his experience as a writer to sell this bit. It’s meta in the way that Fanny and Fred don’t just tell stories, they workshop them, and you can almost sense them workshopping the workshop dialogue. But it’s more than the quippy bit, through each note Fanny gives, Fred’s story improves, and it takes a bit of time for you to notice that Fred doesn’t take criticism as well as he thinks he does. That’s where the story becomes more than a meta tale about spooky stories around the fire. Fred seems to want to feed off of Fanny’s talent. He’s getting free editing from a expert in his desired field. But it doesn’t take long before the editing start to feel like jabs for the aspiring writer, and Fanny, a woman in horror, has to defend herself as against the types of people who don’t think she deserves what she works so hard to get.
The deeper themes and the twist on meta stories are what scream “craft” about this film, but it’s honestly just an absolute blast. I smiled the entire hour forty-four and it reminded me why I love scary movies. “Love letter to horror fans” is a tired cliché, but I call it like I see it.Scare Me is everything horror fandom is born of; it’s not a bunch of masochistic sickos who get off on torture, it’s fun people having a laugh trying to spook each other. what an absolutely beautiful sentiment.
Scare Me hits Shudder October 1, 2020