In the horror comedy SCARE ME Josh Ruben and Aya Cash engage in a clever competition to see who can tell the scariest horror story. We reveal in our review why the feature film debut, which can be seen in the USA on the streaming service Shudder, is definitely worth a look.
OT: Scare Me (USA 2020)
Fred (Josh Ruben), a less than successful actor and writer, rents a mountain cabin so he can write in peace. Since he suffers from writer’s block, he jogs regularly to clear his head. On one of his runs he meets Fanny (Aya Cash), the author of the acclaimed horror novel “Venus”, who lives in a nearby hut. He tells her about his attempts as an author, which Fanny is unimpressed by. But when a thunderstorm shuts down the local power grid that same evening, she suddenly finds herself at Fred’s door. After the two have had a few drinks, Fanny asks Fred to tell her a scary story. Soon a competition ensues as to who can best scare the other person…
Once the rules of a genre are firmly established, it becomes easier to subvert them. The horror film has had to endure pretty much every comment: deconstruction (“The Cabin in the Woods”) as well as parody (“Scary Movie 1 -5”) or even cinematic analysis (“Rubber”) – there are now enough opportunities to engage with horror cinema without having to be lulled by its common tropes. Director, screenwriter and actor Josh Ruben (“CollegeHumor Originals”) tried his hand at comedy for a while and made numerous short films and series episodes; Nevertheless, his first widely known work is a horror film – at least something like that. Although the US streaming service Shudder, which specializes in genre cinema, has taken on Ruben’s feature film debuts, the chamber play, which has long been limited to two people, is by no means what one would expect from him, despite the title and presentation. Lonely forest hut: check. Power outage: check. Two people who barely know each other: check. But in the following 100 minutes, Josh Ruben proves that he knows horror cinema very well, but also reveals the simple methods his creators use – and unfortunately stumbles a little over his own concept in the last third.
Aya Cash and Josh Ruben play Fanny and Fred in “Scare Me.”
The ingredients for a classic cabin-in-the-woods shocker are all there. But as the trailer suggests, there is nothing in “Scare Me” that could get so out of hand that the end result would be fountains of blood or carnage. The premise of two people (almost strangers to each other) just telling each other scary stories all night long is taken to the extreme by Josh Ruben. There isn’t even a visual illustration of the individual stories. All we see are the protagonists Josh Ruben and Aya Cash (“Can a Song save your Life?”), how they try to make the most gruesome faces, uncanny gestures and narrative twists possible. The stories they come up with range from dark werewolf stories to a nasty grandfather anecdote to a casting show whose participant makes a pact with the devil. The only concessions to those viewers who don’t just imagine the gruesome details, but also want to see them in detail, are a short shot of a werewolf claw scratching at the wooden hut and a spectacular light show that brings a bit of television studio flair to the hut. Otherwise, all the details of the various stories take place exclusively in the audience’s head.
“The only concessions to those viewers who not only want to imagine the gruesome details, but also want to see them in detail, are a short shot of a werewolf claw scratching at the wooden hut and a light show that brings a little television studio flair to the hut.”
The fact that it never gets boring is thanks to two things: Firstly, there are the two main actors: Josh Ruben and Aya Cash have excellent chemistry with each other. While she looks slightly down on her fellow writer, who is clearly inferior to her, and he equally refuses to look up at her and her work, Ruben embodies his Fred as a contemporary who is as inscrutable as possible. On the one hand, his constant self-pity becomes almost exhausting at times, but the script compensates for this accordingly. On the other hand, you actually feel a little sorry for his desperate attempts to make it as a writer and actor; It is above all Aya Cash’s Fanny who wonderfully captures these character ambivalences. Her dry, smug commentary on Fred and the situation accurately reflects the viewer’s feelings and sometimes reveals some of the protagonist’s unfavorable character traits. The resulting friction between Fred and Fanny gives “Scare Me” an interesting flavor.
During the evening, Fred and Fanny receive a visit from the pizza delivery boy Carlo (Chris Redd).
On the other hand, the background noise is not that spectacular in itself, but is all the more effective considering the reduced staging. When the title of the film is suddenly accompanied by loud, dissonant string sounds – just as you would normally expect from jump scares – it brings back memories of “The Cabin in the Woods”. However, those responsible only succeed in the actual feat afterwards: namely, when they accompany the descriptions of the two main characters with a typical horror soundscape. When Fanny talks about a creaking door, this is exactly what can be heard on the soundtrack. Just like footsteps in the attic, telephone ringing or music. “Scare Me” would make an excellent (horror) radio play; the visual component is secondary in the film. Nevertheless, the winding forest hut makes for an excellent horror setting in which you can certainly trust that the actually harmless situation will escalate at some point.
“However, those responsible only manage to achieve the actual feat afterwards: when they accompany the descriptions of the two main characters with a typical horror soundscape.”
Unfortunately, it sometimes seems as if Josh Ruben doesn’t quite trust his minimalist concept. It shows that it is one of the funniest scenes when his Fred decides to close the door into the creepy, dark cellar again while listening to dramatic, suspenseful music, thus taking the wind out of the sails of the expectation of a new “Evil Dead”. shows that in “Scare Me” less is more. So it doesn’t need the brief inclusion of a third character (admittedly responsible for some very loud laughs) nor the finale, which is almost an overstatement compared to the rest – which is at least followed by a nice final punchline.
Conclusion: With his feature film directorial debut “Scare Me,” Josh Ruben creates an equally beautiful and minimalist homage to horror cinema, which is always at its best when the focus is exclusively on the two main characters and their scary stories.
“Scare Me” is available on VOD in the US and streamable on Shudder.