LET’S SCARE JULIE impresses from beginning to end, opening with a striking Saul Bass-style credits sequence and moving straight into a taut 80-minute story of vengeance and terror. Shot in a single continuous take, the film stars Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson as Emma, a teenager who moves in with her aunt and uncle after her father’s death. Emma’s cousin Taylor (Isabel May) invites her friends over to meet Emma, and the girls spend the night playing pranks that eventually turn deadly when they decide to scare Julie, the girl who just moved into the haunted house across the street.
Taylor provides a lot of early exposition that establishes the film’s mythology. It sounds like your standard urban legend: a reclusive neighbor who lost her child used to live in the house, and she was rumored to be into the occult. If you ever saw the neighbor, she would give you the evil eye; later on, you received an eerie text message and then disappeared into thin air. The scene honestly works better than it has any right to, since it’s a pretty large chunk of exposition. May really sells Taylor’s fear, though. She’s clearly terrified just telling the story out loud, and the way that the camera occasionally lingers on the haunted house during her story creates an ominous mood that never lets up.
LET’S SCARE JULIE wisely tells the story from Emma’s perspective. She doesn’t participate when the other girls run across the street to scare Julie, so the viewer never sees what actually happens when the prank goes horribly wrong. The girls who make it back to Taylor’s house each have different stories to tell, causing the viewer’s imagination to take over and craft a far more terrifying experience than anything the filmmakers could have depicted onscreen. Even though Emma doesn’t take part in the prank, she still suffers the consequences as the past comes back to haunt every single character in the film.
There’s a nervy claustrophobia to the film’s tight hand-held shots. Writer-director Jud Cremata and cinematographer Chuck Ozeas make incredible use of the single take conceit, giving the audience little to no relief from the tension and making the final 20 minutes of the film heart-in-your-throat terrifying. Most of the movie takes place in Emma’s bedroom, but the fluid camerawork and strong performances make sure the film stays dynamic and compelling.
Refreshingly, Cremata and the cast make the characters feel like real teenagers. The girls chatter over each other and goof off, letting the audience get to know them organically and care about them as people rather than just setting the girls up as fodder to be killed off later. There’s even a romance between two of the girls that is touching in its tentative sweetness. It’s a pleasure to see a queer teen relationship that feels true to life and doesn’t come across as exploitative in the slightest. It’s a brief moment in the film, but it’s still a thrilling moment of representation and nuanced character work.
The girls are real people with complicated personalities, and they can be irritating at times. The film takes a decidedly anti-bullying stance, and the viewer bristles at the way that Madison (Odessa A’zion), Jess (Brooke Sorenson), and Paige (Jessica Sarah Flaum) harass Emma. The film opens with them scaring Emma with a creepy prank while she sleeps, and they continue to invade her personal space throughout the film. They even go so far as to play with her late father’s belongings, including a chilling moment when Madison waves a gun around while Emma’s little sister Lilly (Dakota Baccelli) is in the room. Johnson and Baccelli have great chemistry, giving Emma and Lilly’s relationship a sense of warmth and affection that really grounds the film and provides an emotional throughline that makes the unsettling ending even more affecting.
LET’S SCARE JULIE is a tense and eerie film that explores guilt and accountability through a devastating ghost story about the dangers of bullying and gun violence. The tight camerawork and lean runtime make the scares especially effective, with the continuous take lending the story a visceral intimacy. The strong performances give the characters depth and memorable personalities, landing an emotional gut punch that feels truly earned.
You can’t outrun the ghosts of your past, and LET’S SCARE JULIE shows what happens when they finally catch up with you.
LET’S SCARE JULIE premieres in Home Theaters on Digital and On Demand everywhere October 2, 2020, from Shout! Studios.