Scare Me (CREDIT: Shudder)

Starring: Aya Cash, Josh Ruben, Chris Redd, Rebecca Drysdale

Director: Josh Ruben

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: Unrated (with R-Level Language)

Release Date: October 1, 2020 (Shudder)

The power is out, and you’re stuck in a secluded cabin in the dead of winter! What would you do if this happened to you? Well, if you’re one of the two main characters in Scare Me, you would ride out the night with each other and attempt to respond to the titular command with some real good creepy stories. Gathering around the fire for that purpose is a tradition that can be quite fun, but does it work when you make an entire movie about that? That is the challenge that writer/director/star Josh Ruben has set for himself. He certainly made a smart decision to cast Aya Cash opposite himself, because she just bites into everything, matching his nasty energy tit-for-tat. It’s a good thing that the performances are as demented as they are, because this movie can be quite claustrophobic to a fault.

When a movie is about people telling stories, my instinct is that it would be best to cut away to those stories as they’re being narrated. If that doesn’t happen, then it puts a LOT of pressure on the actors. Even if they rise to the occasion, I’m still inclined to wonder what it would be like if their tales got spruced up with a whole new set design or a switch to another medium. For example, it’s always fun when animation butts into live action, after all. But that’s not the type of movie that Ruben has made. Instead, he wanted to really up our anxiety levels while we hunker down with frustrated novelist Fred (Ruben) and successful novelist Fanny (Cash). I was happy to go along for the ride, but too often I felt like my patience was being tested.

While we don’t see too much of the spooky imagination transformed into visual whimsy, there is nevertheless plenty of imagination on display, as werewolves, a creepy grandpa, and a dead dog all make appearances in the stories. One yarn is even referred to as “A Star is Born, but Satan,” which certainly makes me respond, “Tell me more!” On top of all that, Cash keeps throwing her voice in a way that makes me wonder if it’s being distorted in post. At one point Chris Redd pops in as a pizza delivery guy who then joins in on the storytelling. (Oh, to be a pizza guy who can just hang around like that while on the clock!)

There’s a lingering sense of resentment on Fred’s part towards Fanny that fuels much of the night. Beyond being not very likable, though, it’s hard to get a clear read on him. Is he a misogynist, or just going through a rough time? Is he a practical joker, or a psychopath? Or is he just bored with life? How does it make sense that all of these options seem like legitimate possibilities? I’m not sure what the answer to that question is. But what I can say with confidence is, if you’re stuck at home with nothing else to do, telling each other scary stories is a fine idea. But if you’re going to make an entire movie about that, you probably ought to bust out the bells and whistles.

Scare Me is Recommended If You Like: Being stuck with grody energy

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Power Outages