[Sundance Review] SCARE ME

Josh Ruben, of College Humor and Adam Ruins Everything, has performed quite an impressive feat with his first feature SCARE ME. It is a very tightly constructed and creative film that is both hilarious and eerie and most of this feat is accomplished by Ruben himself and the co-lead Aya Cash.

Aya Cash is magnetic in her role as Fanny and creates a woman who is complicated and a constant player of mind games. Josh Ruben makes Fred, who is every boyfriend you wish you never had, likeable. With the exception of a few sections of the movie, it is a bravura performance of two actors playing off each other like a world-class tennis match. They do so much with the very modest setup, scaring each other with scary stories, that you don’t notice that is pretty much all that you are watching. It takes a lot of talent to make two characters that funny and legitimately scary for that long without missing a serve, but they do it very well. The stories are augmented with some special effects and sound design, but without the acting work behind it, those effects would not have worked nearly as well as they did. And they did work, really quite well. The mix of humor and horror is right on the mark. 

Rebecca Drysdale and Chris Redd (and Fred’s cabin) are the only other characters in the film. Rebecca Drysdale plays the rideshare driver who might make you want to leap from the vehicle and Chris Redd plays the pizza delivery guy who has no problem staying a while to get into the fun and who is the moral conscience of the film. Both of them match Ruben and Cash with their comedy chops and flair for their roles. There’s no weak link among the actors in this film. Everyone is working on a top-notch comedy level. 

Oh and the plot? Simply but cunningly constructed by Ruben as the writer and the director. Fred goes to a cabin for solitude to write. The drive in is annoying but he meets an attractive woman who is a famous author while jogging. His jealousy of her fame and success starts to percolate when the power goes out and Fanny shows up uninvited and starts demanding to be entertained and hear his ideas. After some taunting, the battle royale begins.

SCARE ME is a very interesting dissertation on creativity, human competition and jealousy, the desire for fame, and the people who want to be famous artists, but who might not want to work that hard to achieve that goal. Throw in a battle of the sexes between a woman who is very forthright about women’s issues, but who you suspect might be working an angle at nearly any moment and an obsessive and nerdy guy who thinks he wants to be a writer but has never really done anything concrete about it. You’ve met these people. The people who are not above stealing other people’s ideas or arching an eyebrow in contempt of people less confident than themselves. It is tightly constructed and, for me, really brings to mind the best of stage work where actors face the high wire act of live performance, but on film. The cinematographer, Brendan H. Banks does a terrific job with lighting and shadow and, in particular, one framing of Aya Cash reminded me the lighting of Giallo films in its intensity and spookiness, but has put its own stamp on the style. Josh Ruben has to be commended for doing such a great job of casting, writing, and directing on his first full-length film that mixes horror and comedy so well, on top of being the other half of the acting duel that’s the heart of the movie. 

You might be thinking, hey Dolores, I see that you think this movie is funny, right, but what about the scares? The cast does give you the creeps with the stories and surprises and there is some light but very effective gore in the film. Also, I can say this. When the movie was over, I went down to the bathroom of the Egyptian Theatre in Park City, where the screening was held. There was an audience Q & A, so the bathroom was completely empty. While in the bathroom, I couldn’t help but think about the movie and felt the tender and cold claw of fear caress my spine. Dear reader, I have never felt the need to GTFO out of an empty bathroom this much. I ran out of there. SCARE ME worked as a horror film and a comedy and one of the best things about it is that it can make you scare yourself. 

Dolores Quintana
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