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Review: Horror-Comedy ‘Scare Me’ About White Male Fragility Kills

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Review: Horror-Comedy 'Scare Me' About White Male Fragility Kills

Scare Me, written and directed by Josh Ruben, is a film about mediocrity. Specifically, straight white male mediocrity. It’s an unflinching look at low self-esteem and what it drives some men to do. The film stars Aya Cash, Rebecca Drysdale, Chris Redd, and Josh Ruben as Fred. It’s a cast of funny people. Aya Cash of The Boys plays Fred’s nemesis, Fanny. She isn’t really his nemesis, but he’s deluded enough to think of her as one. There are some spoilers in this review, so beware.

Fred rents a cabin to write a book about a werewolf. Bettina (an adorable Rebecca Drysdale) is the chatty driver who takes him to his cabin. It’s a retreat of some kind since he wants to become a horror writer. He meets Fanny while jogging. Fanny is a horror writer — and a successful one. She has written a critically lauded bestseller, a big deal in the horror world; it means she’s the next Stephen King or Gillian Flynn. She tells him about her book when he asks with pride, but not overly so. Fred hears bragging.

Women aren’t allowed to talk about their accomplishments. No matter how hard it was to earn them. Fanny is a high-achiever like Sylvia Plath, who was hated by male peers and dismissed by professors like Robert Lowell. Fanny, like Plath, is clever, opinionated, extremely well-read, and blunt. She jogs and wears cute sweaters and doesn’t care what people think of her, which (according to some) is a moral crime in a woman. She’s exceptional. Fred hates her guts.

She doesn’t flirt or suck up to his male ego the way women are trained to do, which Fred interprets as “rude.” Fred might like her if she were humble — but I doubt it. She doesn’t mince or act insecure. She isn’t a nerd either really, but she’s smart. It’s confusing. And she doesn’t pretend to be quirky or an adolescent like a character on a tv show. Fanny is too smart for that, and nothing gets under a mediocre white dude’s skin faster. It never occurs to them that women like Fanny have earned their confidence.

Scare Me 2020

Fred retreats to his cabin, where he googles her. “You’re not that great,” he says, scowling at his laptop. Then he tries to write. He can’t. Fanny drops by after a power outage, and they spend the rest of the night telling scary stories which they act out. Both characters are dynamic performers — they do voices and run around like maniacs. The director heightens moments with lighting and shadows instead of letting the stories sit like a staged reading.

But to Fred’s horror, he discovers that Fanny can tell a great scary story. And she’s funny. But that’s his thing; isn’t it? He doesn’t want to live in a world with other talented people. The longer they tell stories, the more you see that Fred is trying to ‘beat’ her. He wants to tell a better story than her to top her; he finds her smug, and it’s unbearable to him. Perhaps she is self-satisfied, but if she were a man, it wouldn’t bother him in the same way. Her crime is that she is a better storyteller than him…and a woman.

Fanny orders pizza, and the delivery man (SNL’s Chris Redd) turns out to be a horror fan. He’s read Fanny’s book, and he admires her. Fred seethes. The pizza guy tells a story, and he’s a better storyteller than Fred too. Fred is in disbelief. Fred hates being the least talented person in the room — because he feels entitled to be better than two marginalized people.

Ruben is scary as the slimy Fred. Fred is pathetic, but perhaps he feels that he’s a failure, and it hurts. He’s perceptive too because he makes searing observations about Fanny. It’s true that Fanny rags on him like a brother, but it’s banter; it’s not any different from how dudes act with each other. But when she messes with him, Fred feels as if it is an attack because she’s a woman. He’s easily threatened. Fanny compliments Fred when he comes up with something good, so Fanny is fair. It’s clear that Fred wants praise; he respects her opinion, despite putting her down. But then things go wrong…terribly wrong.

Scare Me 2020 Werewolf

In a terrifying moment, Fanny says: “I’m a horror writer. And I’m a lady. Everyone steals from me.” Every woman knows what that means. Fred is a fake white ally — a dude who hates women, particularly women who best him in his mind. He’s a malignant narcissist, an almost perfect example of one. Or a spoiled child-man who never grew up, pampered into believing he was great instead of what is — just okay.

I felt sorry for Fred. He’s like the Gollum, wretched. But he doesn’t have to be a toxic male. He could finish his book. He could be successful. Lots of mediocre white men are successful; he could be one of them. And perhaps he is talented; he just needs to do the work as Fanny tells him. But he doesn’t see those possibilities, and maybe that’s the disease of depression; or privilege.

Scare Me is a fun and scary film about the fragility of white men. It scared me. It’s littered with horror film references — fans will love it. It’s written so well. Ruben and Cash are excellent as Fred and Fanny; their chemistry is tangible. Cash, who plays Fanny, is brilliant.

You have to see her sneer after Fred says he doesn’t have to read to be a writer. She stares at him and snaps: “I’m pretty sure that’s the quickest way to become a regurgitative hack.” She’s not mean, she’s right, and if a man said it, he’d be a crusty cool dude keeping it real. That’s the curse of women like Fanny, the story of powerful women, all women. Scare Me begins streaming on Shudder, AMC’s killer horror app, on October 2nd.

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