The 1996 horror favourite Scream famously defined the rules of surviving a slasher: “You may not survive the movie if you have sex; You may not survive the movie if you drink or do drugs; You may not survive the movie if you say ‘I’ll be right back’, ‘Hello?’ or ‘Who’s there?’”
The makers of that film and its immensely popular sequels added a few steadfast rules of their own along the way, among them: kill a teen gruesomely in a jaw-dropping prologue. Writer/director Jennifer Harrington was clearly paying attention to that one, if not the others, in making Shook, which begins with a great kill-into-titles set piece – a stiletto heel through the jaw.
Well, actually there are two kills. We’re on set at an influencer photo call, where one of the influencers’ chihuahua has attracted the attention of the dog killer – yes, dog killer – on the prowl.
Reasoning that the whole dead friend situation is not a strong look, successful beauty influencer Mia (Daisye Tutor) decides to cancel her Friday night plans to live-stream with her fame-hungry friends and instead agrees to babysit her sister’s dog. WITH A DOG KILLER ON THE LOOSE.
When Mia’s canine charge inevitably goes missing, she starts receiving disturbing commands (choose which of your friends dies first, etc) via phone and text, transporting the viewer back to the heady days of 2016, the year of Black Mirror’s ultra-bleak ‘Shut Up And Dance’, in which a guy is controlled by an unknown entity communicating by phone, and the movie Don’t Hang Up, in which two blokes are controlled by an unknown entity communicating by phone.
Shook adds precisely nothing of value to the growing subgenre of malevolent phone pest movies, and breaks the rules of the slashers it hopes to emulate, too. For starters, not a single character fulfils Scream’s demand for the immaculate innocent survivor – they’re all influencers, and therefore they are the devil. Then there’s the carousel of kills, which is a mess in the wrong way: we see Mia’s friends being picked off over crappy phone footage, it’s never clear where anyone is and it’s not explained how the killer is able to text and maim simultaneously.
Halfway through comes a twist that renders the preceding bit pointless, then another twist that explains the killer’s motives and methods in a manner that’s so far outside of the bounds of plausibility you begin to wonder if director Harrington has ever met another human being at all. On top of all of that – literally superimposed on the screen – we see Mia and her friends’ screed of messages typed out on walls and in thin air, naff style-over-substance tricks made lame by Danny Boyle ages ago.
You get a sense that green-gilled directors think horror films are an easy way into the industry, cos you can crank out any old crap, stick some emotive ‘80s synths on and hope people will lap it up. As Harrington proves, the only easy thing is getting it very, very wrong. Stop at the stiletto scene and make up the rest of the movie in your head – your version will be better.
- Director: Jennifer Harrington
- Starring: Nicola Posener, Grant Rosenmeyer, Emily Goss
- Release date: February 18 (Shudder)