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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Josh Ruben
prd Alex Bach, Daniel Powell, Josh Ruben
with Aya Cash, Josh Ruben, Chris Redd, Rebecca Drysdale, Lauren Sick
release US 1.Oct.20
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
More comedy than horror, this witty freak-out cleverly plays with concepts of creativity and storytelling. The focus is on what frightens us, and actor-filmmaker Josh Ruben has fun playing with a wide range of cliches while creating his own lively character opposite the force-of-nature that is Aya Cash. Watching this feels a lot like attending an improvisational stand-up show with added sights and sounds, plus a hilarious musical moment.
After flying from Los Angeles then enduring an overly chatty cab driver (Drysdale) on the way into the snowy Catskills, Fred (Ruben) arrives at a cabin where he's hoping to break his writer's block. Out for a walk he meets Fanny (Cash), a horror novelist on her own writing getaway across the road. As the sun sets the power goes out, so they decide to act out scary stories for each other. The most terrifying moment is when pizza guy Carlo (Redd) arrives with their order. And he's tempted to join in the story-spinning fun.
The brightly comical tone is engaging, especially as the script continually drops little unsettling details into each scene. When Fred discovers stairs leading down into a basement, he simply says, "Nope." As he and Fanny spin their nasty tales, the film throws all kinds of nuttiness at us, both arch visuals and intense sound effects. So Fred's killer werewolf is answered by Fanny's ghastly grandpa, which is in turn followed by a collaborative troll tale. Then Carlo sends the evolving narrative into new directions.
The film is a showcase for actors who can cycle through a variety of voices and characters in a freeform style. Cash delivers another bracing performance as an unapologetically bold woman who refuses to mince her words and relishes in throwing Fred off-balance. Opposite her, Ruben's Fred has a likeable insecurity, trying to ride on his bravado but clearly unconvinced he can pull it off. That he fully goes for it is entertaining to watch, drawing us into the craziness. And Redd brings his own spark of comical energy when he turns up.
This is a riotous romp through all kinds of things that are terrifying, although it focusses on freaky stuff while only grazing topics that are truly awful. The ongoing conversation takes some downright silly turns into pitch-black satire, including several pointed jabs at pop culture. So while the stories are jarring and sometimes rather nasty, they're not particularly scary. But it's enjoyable to imagine hearing them in a blacked-out cabin in the woods. And of course what would the genre be without a few unnerving stings in the tale?
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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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