Josh Ruben writes, directs, and stars in the horror/comedy “Scare Me,” now on Shudder just in time for Halloween. It’s that time of year to break out the scary movie classics, but here’s one that’s brand new and has a few surprises for any horror fan.
Ruben is Fred, a frustrated writer/film director who holes himself up in a remote cabin with only his laptop for company. He’s trying to write the perfect werewolf movie script, but can’t seem to get past a particularly bad case of writer’s block. But his luck is about to change when he discovers he has a neighbor in the form of Fanny, played by Aya Cash. She is a brilliant horror author who, after a power outage forces them together, engages with Fred in a scary storytelling contest.
“Scare Me” is the feature film debut of Ruben, who shows that he is a very aware filmmaker. The premise is simple and the cast small, but he makes the most of his limited budget and location to craft something that makes its viewers use their imagination. Much of the movie takes inspiration from several horror classics with a knowing wink to the audience, acknowledging the steep history of horror in film.
But it’s also something that most of us can relate to, being stuck in a cabin or a house without power, or gathering around a fire to tell scary stories. And what a doozy it is, giving us three creative tales that, augmented with the actors’ committed performances, deep shadows in the cabin, and a few well-placed sound effects, get you laughing and gasping in terror.
Not many movies can balance two disparaging tones like that, but Ruben manages to keep the material bouncing from horror to comedy without giving the audience mood whiplash. The set design of the cabin is simple, yet effective, looking like any old cabin but positioning its key features in ways to optimize the creative lighting.
Outside of the concept of telling scary stories, the wrap-around narrative is Fred’s boiling unhappiness regarding his lack of creative ability. Meeting Fanny only ends up worsening his mood, since she’s far more successful at writing horror, and is a woman, no less. The true horror (and possibly villain) of the film might be Fred and Fanny themselves, incapable of addressing their own character flaws in pursuit of personal fame. That’s unusually deep for the genre.
Another appreciated subversion to the horror anthology style is, rather than showing the stories in film form, we are watching the actors tell them. This includes their hokey acting out of the actions, just like a real storyteller would at a campfire. It’s both original and serves the actors well, as they are given full range to be as goofy and as creepy as needed to tell their stories.
Treading the fine line between horror and comedy, “Scare Me,” now on Shudder, gets you giggling and screaming with laughter and fright. It’s an inventive, humble little offering that keeps its audience guessing and ultimately satisfied.