Telling scary stories is an essential part of childhood. Sitting around a campfire or in a low-lit room, the darkness taking up most of the space, your imagination wanders to the border of the acceptable and the terrifying. Your friends spin tales of murder and witches that leave you wide eyed, breathless and sometimes laughing. But what happens when we grow up? What scares us now that we know what’s real and what’s make-believe? In Scare Me, a new film from comedian, writer and director Josh Ruben, this love of storytelling and horror combines with white male privilege and mediocrity, the scariest fright of them all.
Ruben plays Fred, an ordinary guy looking to get away for a writer’s weekend at a remote cabin. While on a hike he meets Fanny (Aya Cash, You’re The Worst, Fosse/Verdon, The Boys) a snarky published horror who likes to push boundaries and is not afraid of making Fred uncomfortable. A storm and subsequent power outage brings the two together and they start to tell scary stories to pass the time. Soon it becomes apparent that Fred’s jealousy and Fanny’s unabashed criticism is causing more than just friendly competition. Instead something darker lurks inside one of them, ready to erupt at any moment.
The real breakout star of the film is SNL’s Chris Redd, playing a lovable pizza guy and horror fan. Though he doesn’t show up until half-way through, Redd does a brilliant job breaking up the tension and getting us back to individual storytelling. Spouting some of the best lines of the film and serving some of the best one liners Scare Me has to offer, Redd clearly could be the next comedy superstar.
While Aya Cash plays a similar snarky role here to her ones on You’re The Worst and season 2 of The Boys, she really gets the chance to show her range. Switching between characters and voices at the drop of a hat, Cash does so much with character that could seem so unlikable. Her talent and passion shine through with every choice she makes, providing the perfect foil to Ruben’s Fred.
Ruben strips away most of the aesthetics and troupes that horror directors often rely on and instead looks to sound and storytelling to heighten the senses. Visually, there are no monsters hiding under the bed or gore to make us cringe, but he uses his low budget to his advantage and uses his script as a clever jumping off point. His College Humor roots turn out to be an asset, as his lighting and sound effects feeling more in line with a comedy show than a horror film. When dealing with multiple monologues that eventually tell one cohesive story, this “theater” style of filmmaking actually works well with the narrative.
With one of the best Foley work in decade, Scare Me utilizes sound, making it almost another character, and unleashes it on us in ingenious ways. From pitching voices to match gusts of wind to the sparse use of music, everything you hear adds to your goosebumps. While the film leans more toward comedy rather than horror, Scare Me cleverly combines all its elements to tell a more sinister story about the inner psyche of a privileged young male.