Starring: Josh Ruben, Aya Cash, and Chris Redd
Written and directed by: Josh Ruben
LOGLINE: During a power outage, two strangers tell scary stories. The more Fred and Fanny commit to their tales, the more the stories come to life in the dark of a Catskills cabin. The horrors of reality manifest when Fred confronts his ultimate fear: Fanny is the better storyteller.
SYNOPSIS: Fred (Josh Ruben, CollegeHumor), a frustrated copywriter, checks into a winter cabin to start his first novel. While jogging in the nearby woods, he meets Fanny (Aya Cash, “You’re The Worst” “The Boys”), a successful and smug young horror author who fuels his insecurities. During a power outage, Fanny challenges Fred to tell a scary story. As a storm sets in, they pass the time spinning spooky tales fueled by the tensions between them, and Fred is forced to confront his ultimate fear: Fanny is the better storyteller. The stakes are raised when they’re visited by a horror fan (Chris Redd, “Saturday Night Live”) who delivers levity (and a pizza) to the proceedings.
Writer-director Josh Ruben’s debut feature is a metafictional horror comedy about the pleasures and perils of storytelling and the genre’s power to exorcise social demons. SCARE ME is a clever and chilling hybrid of humor and horror that subverts the cabin-in-the-woods trope. Propelled by Cash and Ruben’s comedic chemistry, SCARE ME ventures into darker territory, drawing dread and pathos from the gender hostilities driving Fanny and Fred’s game of ghost stories.
Though my (modest) fanbase knows me through comedy, I was molded from horror. I grew up on all things Freddy, Jason, and King. Anthologies from CAT’S EYE and CREEPSHOW to “Tales From the Darkside” and “Tales From The Crypt” led me to SCARE ME, which I consider to be a horror comedy anthology that never leaves the campfire (or in this case, the confines of a fire lit cabin in the woods). I’m inspired by the nuanced, “less is more” approach and challenged myself to make a film that holds up alongside my horror favorites. SCARE ME embraces the horror comedy genre but grounds it in the real world, which, as we all know, is scary as hell.
I wrote this script at the height of the Me Too movement, while simultaneously engaging in a new level of conversation with the women in my life. They’d taken a cue from this tectonic cultural shift to not only share their experiences with harassment and sexual assault, but to also address how they time and time again felt the need to “dim their light” in the presence of a man. What if he got aggressive? What if that turns him off? What would he think? Their stories left me livid and looking inward, ignited. SCARE ME was my opportunity to embody this toxic and true dynamic, one which examines what it means for a man to be creatively competitive with a woman as he also feels emasculated by her.
Sound is a major component of how SCARE ME scares, and how the demons of Fred and Fanny’s imaginations manifest. When Fred tells Fanny to keep her voice down, she teases him, “What? Are you afraid of the woman in the attic?” Fanny suddenly “narrates” the stumbling steps of someone (something) on the second floor. Fanny’s sounds, made first rudimentarily with her mouth, are soon replaced with the chilling, stumbling limp on the ceiling floorboards. This is one of several moments which slots SCARE ME into the horror category. Among others, a brief glimpse at a werewolf’s blood-drenched claw at the hilt of Fred’s first story, and Fanny’s EVIL DEAD-inspired final tale, where she projectile vomits (unseen) Satanic barf.
SCARE ME is composed of a three-part genre DNA. First, the playful, campy spirit of a nostalgic horror anthology. This one leaves so much to the viewer’s imagination by the conduit of sound and practical visual effects. Second, the unsettling, lingering takes, indicative of the great psychological thrillers (inspired by the work of Yorgos Lanthimos). One of my favorite shots in SCARE ME has Fanny crawling on the floor, closer and closer toward us, like a dog resurrected from PET SEMATARY. Third, a twist ending. Despite the laughs along the way — including a cameo by a horror fanatic pizza man named Carlo (Chris Redd), who ratchets up Fred’s resentment for being ostracized from his two-hander dynamic with Fanny — the most terrifying fuel is the social commentary: The unsettling gender politics at play between a fragile man and an intelligent woman.