“You look like a fella who might be interested in scary stories.”
Mary Shelley’s Gothic/proto-SciFi novel Frankenstein grew out of a contest between her, her future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and their friend Lord Byron. The competition was to see who could write the best horror story. (I wonder if there is any record of the two men’s attempts.) Josh Ruben’s premier feature film Scare Me is the same concept. Two writers (plus a couple minor characters) try to see who can scare the other. The result is a hybrid between comedy and horror.
Fred (Ruben), a wannabe horror writer, has rented a cabin in the woods so he can write his werewolf story. The only real problem is that he’s not really a writer and nothing goes onto the page. Out on a jog, he meets Fannie (Aya Cash) who is staying in a cabin nearby. It turns out Fannie is a bestselling horror author. She’s not much interested in Fred—she’s there to work. But when the power goes out that night, Fannie goes over to Fred’s cabin and they decide to tell each other scary stories.
Fred is obviously at a disadvantage. His werewolf story does nothing to change or advance that trope. He only has the bare bones of the story, even though Fannie prompts him for details. When Fannie tells her story, she creates a dark world into which Fred is drawn as he listens. Then they begin a tale about a troll that lives in the air vents of an office building. They bounce back and forth in the telling and acting out this story. When pizza delivery man Carlo (Chris Redd) shows up with dinner, he too joins in this celebration of being scared by words. In the end, Fred is confronted by the biggest horror, that he may not be any good as a writer, and his life is a failure.
For most horror stories we have come to rely on special effects, moody music, gore, and sudden surprises that make us jump in our seats. But here the horror is almost exclusively done with words. At times we visualize just a bit of the story, and there are occasional shadows on a wall or ceiling that reflects something in the story being told, but that just allows us to get better into the words.
Because it walks a line between horror and comedy, it never gets overly scary or over-the-top funny. But for those who like something a little different in their horror, Scare Me might fit the bill for a dark night in an empty house with wind, thunder and lightning outside.
Scare Me is available on Shudder streaming service.