SHOOK (2021)

Shook.jpg

Studio:      Shudder
Director:    Jennifer Harrington
Writer:      Jennifer Harrington, Alesia Glidewell
Producer:  Tara L. Craig
Stars:     Daisye Tutor, Emily Goss, Nicola Posener, Octavius J. Johnson, Stephanie Simbari, Grant Rosenmeyer

Review Score:

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Summary:

A social media influencer questions if she is the target of a prank or a serial killer¡¯s next victim when she is forced to play strange games to save the lives of her friends.


Synopsis:     

Review:

Mia seems like a garden-variety Instagram influencer. She shills for cosmetics companies, purses Pringles lips while making peace signs, and peddles ¡°no sh*t¡± beauty tips just like every other internet star who became famous for being famous.

This doesn¡¯t mean ¡°Shook¡± is a garden-variety ¡°social media¡± horror movie. You know the ones that emptily parody phony personalities, feature trendy YouTube teens no one over 20 has heard of, or recycle some ¡°no sh*t¡± cautionary tale about online perils? No, ¡°Shook¡± has more going for it than that.

When a serial dog killer puts a high-heeled pump through the throat of one of her peers, Mia thinks twice about a preplanned livestream for her loyal followers. Instead, she dog-sits for her sister Nicole. That way, little Chico stays safe while Mia presumably does too, since the murderer apparently has it out for pets as well as faux fashionistas.

Mia¡¯s three best friends would rather she join them for a party. Nicole¡¯s strange neighbor Kellan would rather Mia join him. Not in person, but over the phone. After Mia receives a series of unsettling texts and calls, Kellan reveals he has Mia¡¯s friends, Nicole, and Nicole¡¯s dog held captive. If Mia tries to leave or call the police, Kellan will kill them all. Yet if Mia answers odd questions, performs painful tasks, and makes ¡°Sophie¡¯s Choice¡± decisions about who lives and who dies, some of them might survive. The thing is, Mia can¡¯t be sure if she is the target of an elaborate prank, or if she really is a pawn in a serial psycho¡¯s twisted scheme.

Jaded people probably see that summary, pick their rolled eyes up off the floor, and either move right along or go into ¡°Shook¡± on bad faith that it¡¯s another superficial slasher. To a degree, it can be. ¡°Shook¡± has to bear the double-whammy of being 3,965th in a line of John Kramer ¡°do you wanna play a game?¡± scenarios and the 8,763rd film to put an ¡°is it live or is it Memorex?¡± mystery on top. Being a totally hollow copycat isn¡¯t where ¡°Shook¡± hangs its hat though.

¡°Shook¡± plays a lot like a Lifetime thriller, which I say solely to set the scene, not to pass any judgment one way or another. The movie has that bright look to it, and I¡¯m not talking about lighting. It also has a vaguely tongue-in-cheek, almost playful tone, even though ¡°Shook¡± isn¡¯t quite a comedy.

¡°Stalked over social media¡± setups tend to be taxing for varied reasons, with the main one being that watching someone interact with a phone is even more annoying as ¡°entertainment¡± than when someone ignores you to do it in person. Movie-of-the-week stylings can be equally grating due to the sterile sameness they usually have from being assembled by catatonic robots doing conveyor belt work.

But director Jennifer Harrington creatively sidesteps many of those conventions by trying a few novel techniques. Sometimes, Mia¡¯s text message interactions are visualized so that the other person appears in the room with her, but the voice is distorted as a reminder they¡¯re really somewhere else. Split screens come in at a couple of points to show simultaneous actions. Word graphics melt onto background furniture. Other fast flashes of eye-catching imagery interject here and there too. Something is almost always happening onscreen, even when plot beats plateau. The pep Harrington puts in the pace by shaking up staging like this keeps the film flowing so we aren¡¯t stuck watching one woman typing or staring at video feeds on a two-dimensional screen. ¡°Shook¡± moves smoothly as a result, which becomes a sensory-pleasing relief since there are a number of drags where Mia merely walks around, looks at cutaways of empty rooms, etc.

¡°Shook¡¯s¡± snappiness made perfect sense when I looked at Harrington¡¯s IMDb page and discovered the bulk of her background lies in editing. What made less sense was seeing ¡°Shook¡± with only a 3.4 user rating (out of just 17 votes) as of this writing. ¡°Shook¡± probably deserves a 7 strictly for technical merit, to which this movie holds a higher standard than 95% of productions in this range. Ill knock my own rating down by .5 because stubborn cynics will still find ¡°Shook¡¯s¡± twists to be too silly to look at the bigger picture of what Harrington does to jazz up the story and the style of what looks like a typical thriller.

¡°Shook¡± has a basic cable flavor, but it¡¯s not made to be basic. This isn¡¯t an ordinary iPhone indie affair. The film uses a Panavision camera, a Chapman dolly, and SAG actors who aren¡¯t embodying the usual stereotypes for this sort of thing. Well, some of them are. Mia turns out to be not all that annoying anyway. Keep open-minded expectations in check and ¡°Shook¡± shakes out as a breezy watch that¡¯s worth the ¡°free¡± price if you subscribe to Shudder. Regardless of whether this one tickles your particular dark fantasy fancy, Jennifer Harrington certainly knows how to cut together a crisp flick.

Review Score: 65