An Anthology That Explores the Personal Horrors of Five Aspiring Writers
Scare Us (2022) is an anthology of five horror stories that range from great ideas that could have been done better to truly creepy cinematic excellence. It’s an odd experience for the viewer who chooses to sit through the rough spots only to find themselves thoroughly entranced by the thrills this film offers. With a different director for each story, there were bound to be some issues with cohesiveness, but if you can handle watching a movie that is hit and miss, this one is worth a watch.
The film begins with Claire (Charlotte Lilt) riding her bicycle through a quaint town, waving at neighbors and warily side-eying the local cinema. The scene effectively sets the mood for what’s to come: a nice little town with a serial killer problem. Claire arrives at her friend Pete’s used bookstore (Tom Sandoval), a massive shop with more shelves than your local Indigo that will leave all book lovers drooling. The size of the shop is important later in the story. Claire and Pete have good on-screen chemistry; their friendship is believable. They banter back and forth while Pete serves a customer and reveals that there is, indeed, a serial killer on the loose. This is perfect, because Claire is there for the weekly writer’s group meeting (held in the back of the store), and this week’s assignment is to tell a scary story based on a personal truth.
At this point, the story temporarily drops in quality. Pete is a quirky guy, and as the leader of the group, the cinematic vibe follows his lead. Unfortunately, the other members of the group are a petulant divorcee, an overly eager teenager, and a rough around the edges man who shows up with an unexplained black eye. Together, the mishmash of personalities comes across as awkward and cheesy, not like a group of people who have been meeting regularly to share their writing.
Pete vehemently insists that the teenager, Mikey (Ethan Drew) needs to leave. His father is a cop, and Pete doesn’t want to get on his bad side by allowing his underage son to participate in the telling of horror stories. Claire and Mikey are friends, though, and she convinces Pete to let him stay. The divorcee, Naomi (Michelle Palermo) and the tough guy, Diego (Michael C. Alvarez) take jabs at one another, making no effort to disguise the fact that they hate each other. After telling a couple of stories, though, Naomi and Diego are almost flirting with one another which is unexplained and seems pointless to the plot.
More time could have been spent developing these characters before they started telling their stories to explain their backgrounds and make the viewer feel something for them. At this point in the film, it is difficult to like any of them.
The cast take turns reading their stories for the group, and this is where the film gets better (in spots). The first story, Night Haul, is Naomi’s horror, directed by Ryan Henry Johnston and Charlotte Lilt. After leaving her abusive, cheating husband, she goes to their storage unit to remove her belongings. She and the only other customer there, a priest, are told that the facility is closing in ten minutes so they need to be quick.
What follows is the weakest of the five stories. Naomi’s behavior is not believable, and the graphics aren’t great. This is unfortunate, because the allegorical exploration of a woman feeling trapped in an abusive relationship as expressed by being trapped in a maze of memory-holding container units with a demon on the loose could have been very powerful. The security guard is obnoxious and difficult to watch. If you can sit through this one, though, the next story is amazing.
Untethered is Mikey’s fever dream, directed by Ryan Kjolberg. Mikey’s father is ordered to take a leave of absence from the police force, but all Mikey and his sister know is that he’s been working on a tough case. Their mother tells them not to ask questions and is not bothered by the fact that their father Hal is standing in an almost catatonic state in the living room, twitching and muttering to himself.
The cast in this short work very well together, and the directing is on point. There were moments in this story that were creepier than anything a big-budget production could pull off (put Kjolberg on your “must follow” list for future projects). Mikey’s father Hal (Jose Rosete) may be the best actor in the entire film, playing the troubled cop who truly has become untethered. His physical presence in this role is demanding of attention and brilliantly played. Rosete has a huge portfolio of work coming out in the near future.
The third story is Diego’s Dead Ringer, directed by Jordan Pillar and Carl Jensen IV. Alvarez is given more space in this segment to show his acting chops, which is good because he’s much better than the wrap-around story allows.
He’s a hitchhiker who finds himself face to face with an opponent that is equal parts confusing and freaky. It’s unclear what “it” really is, and feels like several horror tropes blended to make something new, but Alvarez’s performance is excellent. There is one laugh-out-loud moment in this story, whether it was supposed to be or not, and you’ll know it when you see it. In case it’s not obvious, watch for the wife to bend over. While Alvarez’s performance is great, the story is lacking in clarity and will lose some viewers’ faith that the film will get better.
The Resting is Claire’s story, the telling of her learning who her birth mother is only after her death. When Claire inherits her mother’s house, she mourns the fact that she never knew the woman in life. Her partner David is extremely supportive, especially when one of the neighbors comes to welcome them to the neighborhood.
The Resting is reminiscent of Midsommer and Skeleton Key, with bits and pieces borrowed from each. Despite this, the story is well done for the most part. Maria Amorocho, as Esther, is fantastic. Her role as the creepily kind neighbor makes this segment work. Horror fans will see the punchline coming in this short, but it’s done well enough that it deserves credit for its writing and cinematography. Lilt as the bereaved Claire is natural and likable, very well done.
The final tale is told by Pete, and is cut short as the wrap-around that binds the stories together comes to a climax. This is where the size and layout of the book store are really used to the movie’s advantage. Where the initial scenes were cheesy and difficult to enjoy, the last scenes are far more cohesive, anxiety-inducing, and downright scary.
Sandoval, relieved of the bow-tie bookseller persona, shines in his final role. While the group tries to escape the ever-changing maze of bookshelves, the truth is revealed. Some viewers will have seen it coming, but the payoff is still satisfying. Had this energy been applied to the beginning of the film and the segments between shorts, Scare Us could easily rate 4 stars out of 5.
While there are large holes in this film, there are enough well-done scenes and some surprisingly good acting from the side characters to make it worth a watch. View it with the knowledge that it is a low-budget film made by multiple minds, and if you pay attention each short has an existential message.
There will be bumps along the way, but you’ll probably enjoy it. Scoring 2.5 stars out of 5 as a whole, but rounded up to 3 for the fantastic bits in Untethered and the exceptional acting from some of the cast.
SCARE US, a darkly vicious serial killer horror anthology, will be digitally released in the UK on Monday 13th June, courtesy of Koch Films. It is now available to pre-order on Apple TV / iTunes: Scare Us
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Kate’s love of all things dark began as a child and deepened when she realized what being an adult meant. She was born with a pencil in her hand and loves nothing more than writing horrific stories to tantalize her inner demons. Kate lives in Hamilton, Ontario Canada with her husband and her boys, stirring up trouble wherever she can.