Over the past century, filmmakers have used all of the tools at their disposal to deliver audiences horrifying tales, with advances in technology allowing creatives to exploit all-new vulnerabilities. Filmmaker Josh Ruben, however, looked to the past to craft Scare Me, a film that largely features only two performers in an isolated cabin telling stories to creep one another out. This isn't to say any of these stories fall short of more visually complex films, as he utilized sound design and intense performances to help convey the terror of the tales. Ruben recently detailed the experience of emphasizing voices and sound effects to unsettle audiences. Scare Me is available exclusively on Shudder on October 1st.
"It was such a low budget movie that I didn't have much outside influence to that degree," Ruben shared with ComicBook.com when it came to withholding visuals from the audience. "In fact, part of the allure for some investors and producers was essentially that there was little special effects. There was no VFX, or very few. So that was exciting to the folks that helped me bring it to life. And, if anything, they wanted more of it. I used a bit of shadow work, practical shadow work twice and there was a desire to bring that in one more time. We essentially did it with a little bit of VFX."
He added, "But no, that was the allure. I mean, this is a sound designer's movie. It's a composer's movie, for sure, and that's what's so exciting to me. Because I was like, 'I bet I could do this without showing anything and it would still be effective.' And I think, I hope, we did it."
In the film, Fred (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.
The filmmaker also went on to detail how he crafted the specific stories being told within the narrative.
"I've had a script called 'Venus' about a woman, a zombie outbreak, her relationship with her son, since, God, 2002?" Ruben explained. "And only made it about 34 pages, sort of like ... maybe this one, that was my cheat moment as the keystone part of the film, where the dynamic change is kinda two against one. The troll idea was my effort to showcase my, I don't know, in my own branding, I guess. I've played a lot of creatures and trolls and goblins and I love it. So, one, it's something that showcased me in that regard. Same with the werewolf. I love making werewolf sounds and roars and I do this thing where I can just make it sound and feel like blood's coming out of my face with these kinda odd sounds. I'm gonna showcase myself with that route."
He continued, "So just knowing that I wanted a story around sounds and references and letting my imagination go wild. Venus was an old story, cobwebs. And there's a story about a dead dog, which was essentially based on it. And something I made up as a kid to tell people, that really happened to me. I told them that I heard footsteps upstairs. I went around to the side of the house and saw a dog walk down the stairs and slip out the back door. And it was this creepy story that I just lied to people, essentially. And so I've put them all together. It was one big cheat. And then the throughline, the drive was the gender dynamics, which was the engine."
Scare Me is available exclusively through Shudder on October 1st.
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