The fact that Josh Ruben’s feature debut is a horror comedy is not especially noteworthy. That he is also the writer and stars in the movie is certainly interesting. On top of everything else, Scare Me is making its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Plus, horror streaming network Shudder has announced they acquired the rights to the movie. That is a lot going on for a first time director.
Scare Me is the story of two horror writers. One is a best selling author while the other is trying to break into the genre. After a power outage leaves the alone in a cabin, the two decide to pass the time by exchanging spooky tales. It quickly becomes apparent that one is the superior author. How does a frustrated would be writer deal with their biggest fear of all: that someone else is better than them?
As a former writer for CollegeHumor, Ruben is no stranger to comedy. He has also directed sketches for The Late Late Show with James Corden further cementing his familiarity with the genre. This becomes quickly apparent as the opening is a hilarious conversation between Fred (Ruben) and his driver. Along with delivering laughs, the segment does an excellent job of setting the audience up for what they are about to see.
At first it appears as if Fred’s hesitant responses may simply be due to the fact he would rather not engage in conversation. While that may be the case, it also becomes clear why he is unable to answer some very direct questions. Fred is frustrated and looking to make changes in his life. The first segment also shows Scare Me will not just be another horror comedy. A premium is going to be put on amusing the audience.
Fanny’s (Aya Cash) introduction is also well done. It is established that she is a writer, but more importantly her self assuredness is on display. She is more than just a best selling author. She is a popular writer who is unafraid to tell you what she thinks. Fanny adds to the film’s comedy. Her blunt answers are the perfect contrast to Fred’s almost weak demeanor.
The chemistry between the two characters is a very vital part of Scare Me. The movie is an intimate one. Not only is the setting a cabin in the woods, Fred and Fanny are alone the vast majority of the time. Throw in a fireplace for mood lighting and the movie is one of the coziest horror movies of all time. The two leads are able to play off each other perfectly. There is a give and take that is important to film’s with intimate casts. Despite the obvious power dynamic at play, there is never a case where one actor outshines the other.
What makes this all the more impressive is the structure of the movie. Scare Me is almost an anthology, with the two leads trading off segments. Both get to show off their comedic chops as they act out the stories they are telling. These are some of the most impressive moments of the film. It is nostalgic on one level, reminiscent of times we would hang out with our friends and share creepy urban legends. The audience will immediately be drawn in.
Ruben’s production work also helps. As the two tell their tales, the stories begin to take a life of their own in the dark cabin. Storywise, it is due to the voices and actions of the two authors. It is at these moments that the work of Rubens behind the camera is most noticeable. This is due in part to some creative directing involving lights, shadow, and sound. Yes, the audience is just listening to stories, but these are also the times Scare Me is most like a horror movie.
It is hard to discuss Scare Me without discussing the themes it tackles. The movie takes on gender roles. What Ruben does so well is he addresses the entire topic with just two people. There is no preaching or horseshoeing. The plot explores ideas by using its two main characters. It was a very delicate line to walk, but Ruben does so perfectly.
Scare Me is an outstanding debut from writer-director Josh Ruben. While horror fans may feel it focuses a little too much on its comedic premise, the movie still delivers genuine scares. It also manages to take on serious issues without overreaching its general premise. Best of all, it is fun. When it comes to swapping scary stories, what more can you ask.