Josh Ruben’s feature debut is cozy company for a bit, but it’s far too drawn-out to do its performances or themes justice.
The fun of a movie can be a bit of a crapshoot. It’s not necessarily to say that those involved will or won’t have fun, though; it’s more an issue as to whether that fun will actually break through the screen. With Scare Me, everyone involved is clearly having the times of their lives. Its setting is confined, its cast small. The simple premise and lofty goals only emphasize the exuberance on display, and at times it really comes across. It would have worked well enough at a little over half an hour. But this thing is 100 minutes, and it never seems to end.
It seems like a sure bet on paper. Josh Ruben, whose previous work largely consists of web sketches and short films, writes and directs his feature debut, mixing short-form portmanteau and meta humor. He also stars as Fred, a wannabe multihyphenate. Yet while Ruben and his movie are harmless, his character is an entitled brat trying to make it as a writer. He’s staying in a mountain cabin to get some work done and, while out on a run, comes across a new neighbor. And it’s a successful horror novelist named Fanny (Aya Cash)! When a power outage strikes that night, what’s there to do but tell each other scary stories?
Suffice it to say that Ruben and Cash are all in, doling out impressions and pantomimes with aplomb. Ruben is as playful as a director too, he and DP Brendan H. Banks jumping at the chance to pop in as many high- and low-angle shots as possible. It’s when Scare Me fumbles its commentary on the creative process and misogyny in the arts that the script doubles down on its most basic components. It’s cozy for a little while. Then it veers towards interminable.
The issue here isn’t whether Scare Me is cinematic. Ruben and company add a good amount of meat for something so skeletal, at least technically. The issue is how mercilessly drawn-out this jaunt is. It’s at least twice as long as it ought to be, taking a short film concept and stretching it so thin until its deeper themes largely evaporate. Beyond its surface, Scare Me is a comment on white men and their tendencies to act out as creative leeches, especially in genre fare. It’s a meager success on that front at points. The problem is that Fanny’s actions, and even her basic decision to hang out with a tool like Fred, feel forced.
It would have worked well enough at a little over half an hour. But this thing is 100 minutes, and it never seems to end.
For one, Fred is patently uninteresting, both in Fanny’s eyes and by the movie’s design. Secondly, the way he acts—and especially the freaky ways he talks about his past—only invite Fanny to leave. Instead, she stays to redeem Fred of his flaws and teach him a few lessons. Ruben and Cash’s chemistry helps shield this a bit, but the script doesn’t understand behavior as much as it does common interests. Granted, it understands the pair’s passions, but it doesn’t know when to quit.
The repetition only breaks up a bit past the hour mark, at which point it throws some more into the mix. Alcohol, weed, and cocaine loosen things up, and Chris Redd pops up as a pizza delivery guy. He’s as game as Ruben and Cash are, no doubt about that. But by the time Scare Me falls on these devices to revive audience interest, it’s too little, too late.
Scare Me creeps its way onto Shudder this Thursday, October 1.