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'Scare Me' shows that no one is owed success
The hilarious, minimalist horror comedy examines the creative process and white male entitlement
As most of my subscribers are fellow artistic folks, I don’t think it will come as a shock to you when I say being creative is hard. It takes a ton of work to even get to the point where you’re barely breaking into a creative industry, and even more work to establish yourself. Even the people who make it look effortless are working their asses off constantly. And if you’re anyone who isn’t a cis straight white dude, there’s all the added prejudices and bullshit–both personal and institutional–that you have to deal with as well. Despite knowing all that, there are still people who feel entitled to success, like it’s owed to them solely because they want it. And I was thinking about those people while I watched horror comedy Scare Me.
Released earlier this year on horror streaming site Shudder, Scare Me is set in prime horror territory: secluded winter cabins. Fred (Josh Ruben, who also writes and directs the film) is an advertising writer and director hoping to break into more creative avenues with his work, as he explains through exasperation to his ride share driver Bettina (Rebecca Drysdale). To that end he’s rented a cabin to hunker down in to write. While there he meets Fanny (Aya Cash), the successful author of an acclaimed horror novel. When the power goes out the two gather together to tell scary stories, joined briefly by pizza delivery man Carlo (Chris Redd).
To start with, Ruben does a brilliant job behind the camera on Scare Me. The film is shot closely and intimately, getting us invested in the stories Fanny and Fred tell as well as their personal aspirations. It knowingly plays at tropes from horror to provide insightful thoughts and laughs, like when Fred opens the door to the spooky basement and immediately says “nope” and closes the door again.
As the movie gets into Fanny and Fred’s stories, the core of the message starts revealing itself. Fanny is a better storyteller than Fred, simple as that. While he goes first in telling his werewolf story, it’s clear he hasn’t thought it through beyond the idea. It’s only through Fanny’s urging and prodding that he fleshes out details, and even still relies on stereotypes and cliches to round it out. In contrast, Fanny’s first story about a spooky grandparent and the scarred little girl (featuring a truly hilarious impression from Cash) is great from the start. This disparity in storytelling is not a judgement on either of them as people, it’s just a thing that is true. It does serve to illuminate something about the characters though, as while both are having fun, we start to see Fanny’s talent start to get under his skin.
Besides the small snide comments Fred starts making, Scare Me does a great job pulling a slow burn on the character development. The resentment over Fanny’s success builds slowly, and we start finding out some red flags about his past. He chafes when Carlo is brought into the mix. Chris Redd is brilliant in his usual manic energy state, and he represents what Fred should be treating the night like. Carlo is just here to have fun. He knows that he’s never going to be a brilliant horror writer, but he likes it and he wants to keep doing it for the sake of doing it. And that’s fine! That is a perfectly acceptable creative goal to have.
The end of the movie–avoiding spoilers here–really drives home the point and is where I recognize way too many men in the form of Fred. That resentment gets turned outward, along with ugly sexism and bitterness that completely shifts our understanding of him. Fanny gives him a dressing down towards the end that is well deserved and that Cash does an amazing job with, summarizing a lot of what is wrong with entitled male creatives. Success is not owed, talent does not mean you get a free pass to fame, and there are so many people out there who have to work ten times as hard to even exist in creative fields. The ending stinger in the credits is a humorous illustration of this that really brings the point home.
Scare Me is a tightly made, fun little horror comedy on its face. I would encourage you to watch it just for some laughs and some scares. Pay attention to how you view yourself and others around you as you watch Fred and Fanny, though. Be a Fanny, not a Fred.