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REVIEW: ‘Scare Me’ is a Fun, But Insular Tribute to the Horror Genre

Scare me
Credit: Shudder

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So we’ve got a cabin, woods, and a writer. Surely by the end of this, we’re either going to encounter an ancient book or an axe-wielding Jack Nicholson. 

Actor-director Josh Ruben gives us neither in his feature directorial debut, ‘Scare Me.” For this horror comedy, Ruben strips down the classic cabin-in-the-woods trope and stages a fireside battle of wits.

Fred (Josh Ruben) is a writer who daylights at an ad agency. He heads out to a secluded cabin in the Catskills, where he plans to make headway on a new horror story. While on a run, he meets Fanny (Aya Cash), a bestselling horror author who’s also trekked out to the woods to write. Then, the cabins are hit by a power outage. The pair hunker down in Fred’s cabin and resolve to wait out the storm by telling each other scary stories. They’re even joined by a pizza delivery guy named Carlo (Chris Redd) for a spell. “Scare me,” Fanny says.

It’s a treat to watch Aya Cash and Josh Ruben flaunt their own storytelling skills, complete with spot-on impressions and a musical number. As Fanny and Fred take turns trying to out-scare each other, we’re reminded what good, innocent fun it is to hang out around a fire and tell tall tales. Remember that?

‘Scare Me,’ at its core, is a tribute to the horror genre, and all of its peculiar powers. In fact, there should be a “ding” every time Ruben includes a movie reference in the script. Double-ding if Ruben or Cash does a killer impression of a character from said movie.

Scare Me
Credit: Shudder

The pop culture plugs, if overgenerous, aren’t all for naught. Fanny and Fred (and in turn, Josh Ruben) are inspired by the best scare-makers in the biz. References to the likes of Stephen King and The CryptKeeper are necessary as they put their creative processes on display. As ‘Scare Me’ unfolds, we find that Ruben is not just pulling inspiration from the monsters and ghoulies of horror. The film examines the horror genre’s ability to get at what really scares us. 

Here’s where ‘Scare Me’ takes a deeper dive. It’s also where the movie gets wobbly.

Fred’s first story is about werewolves, which Fanny finds hacky. “’Silver Bullet’ is childish, campy garbage,” she says. (Ding.) Fanny’s cabin stories are about a sinister grandfather and a manipulative boss. In other words: men are the monsters. Fred could never see himself as the villain, so he dreams of werewolves and trolls. He’s threatened by Fanny’s talent, and over the course of the night sinks further into resentment and self-pity. It seems that Fred’s been face-to-face with his biggest fear the entire time: being one-upped by a woman. Thus, Fred snaps, initiating a final stand-off between the two.

Scare Me
Credit: Shudder

Josh Ruben is tackling some big ideas about misogyny and ego and artistic integrity, and tries to wrap them neatly in layers of metafictional storytelling. It’s an entertaining effort, but winds up feeling insular and misguided. The capital-M “Messages” are overexplained, most blatantly in Fanny’s characterization. She judges one of Fred’s ideas as “the classic story of an emasculated boy by a strong female,” makes Bechdel Test references, and takes issue with Fred’s overall white dude-ness.

 

Oh, and Chris Redd, you ask? The “SNL” comedian plays Carlo, a welcome third-act delight who drops in and out all too quickly. He delivers pizza, briefly joins in for the ghost story shenanigans, and giddily geeks out over meeting Fanny, his favorite author.

Although he has little screen time, we care about the charming Carlo. Now can we get a more substantial role for Chris Redd? We have enough Freds and Fannys.

 

“Scare Me,” written and directed by Josh Ruben, is now available for streaming on Shudder.

 

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