Directed by Jennifer Harrington, Shook is a film I stumbled across and blindly watched on the Shudder subscription service. I was neither familiar with the director nor the other screenwriter responsible for the film Alesia Glidewell, but I decided to take a leap of faith in spite of that. Starring Daisye Tutor, Emily Goss, and Nicola Posener, Shook is a film of a familiar breed. The name alone should offer at least a subtle hint at the less than subtle social commentary and lampooning the film has intended. Similar, in a way, to Spree, a film I talked about barely a month ago, Shook looks to highlight and underscore the vapid, and hollowness the internet helped create.
Mia is a social media star / or influencer, as they’re sometimes called, whose relationships and behaviors are motivated by what is beneficial to her “brand”. For instance, when one of her friends is murdered, she offers to housesit her sister’s animal, feeling it will land her some brownie points with her followers. Her friends are shallow and self-centered as well, but, as we come to learn, our protagonist’s behavior may also be motivated by other factors. She went to school while her mother was dying, and now, it appears her sister will likely face the same cruel, unfair ailments. While housesitting, however, she finds herself the target of an online terror campaign, enacted by a mysterious assailant.
Commentary directed at social-media is ripe for the picking at the moment, and, for that reason, I can’t fault filmmakers seeking to go to that well, so to speak. Similar to Spree or, perhaps, Tragedy Girls, Shook is neither subtle nor nuanced in character portrayals. This is not a damning characteristic, but, in showing such an extreme side of it, it can make the more intimate, sentimental moments feel insincere or manufactured.
The incorporation of social-media was better than I had seen in some other films. I still don’t think we have had a definitive film that has ironed out the kinks on what exactly is the best way to include it. Instead, it has left it open to experimentation. Sometimes though, like the found-footage genre, which sees shaky camerawork delivered ad nauseum, filmmakers sometimes overdo the inclusion of text messages and chatrooms, and other gimmickry. Sometimes, I think it is deliberate, meant to capture the suffocating, obnoxious qualities, but, more often, I find the intent and my response are not in tandem. Shook is mostly lowkey about it. The production value is consistent, with proper lighting and camerawork, and I found the inclusion of the social media components harmless and, occasionally, slick.
There were other small details I appreciated as well. Little touches I noticed that added to the production. Small things, really. Like when Mia is alone in a room and tasked with choosing between the life of one person or the other, dramatic music blares, and behind her, foggy ghost-like presences of each person will loom in the background. They’re stylish decisions that show a sense of inspiration and craftmanship, elevating what otherwise is a very conventional, simple film.
The horror is mostly found in the protagonists’ harassment of Mia through phone-calls, digging into her psyche by poking and prodding at what she is insecure about. I don’t think you will avoid comparisons to Scream, and, if you have seen the Scream series that followed, they have a similar sensibility to them as well. Our antagonist toys with Mia and has a deep, casual speaking voice as he taunts his prey, akin to Ghostface, and for other series’ influenced by it. The performances are par for the course, as it were, with the characters feeling over-the-top and phony when they’re in-front of the scene, but coming back down to earth some when they’re not. The actress playing Mia and her sister are left to carry a lot of the film. It is a high-concept film, for certain, but the concept hinges very heavily on their performances, for which, I feel they did well.
Eventually, the film has a tonal shift occur that changes the dynamic in major fashion, which complicates what was otherwise a simple concept. That said, it does add some individuality and drama. Sure, it was a simple concept, but it was a recycling of an approach we had seen prior. In other words, I feel it did need something in order to stand out. Still, I find myself struggling on exactly where I land on it. The development in this film does add a new dimension and explains away some of the loose ends I had been having in it, but, at the same time, when you think about what it suggests, its practicality and connotations, it feels like a stretch. I think, maybe, it is a “two steps forward, one step back” scenario, where, ultimately, the “twist” adds a little more than it takes away.
By the end, I think I ended up liking Shook more than I thought I would. Due to earlier precedents, I believe it may have been fighting an uphill battle with me as a viewer in some ways. I’d seen the high-tech shtick implemented a handful, and because of how it feels and how I perceived it, I held a general confidence I had seen everything it had to offer. I had “pre-written” the review, I think, and that is no way to treat any film. I am not saying I loved the film, per se, but I believe it was a solid horror film. The cinematography was high-production, and I think the story made good use of its minimalist environment, implementing the social-media gimmick in ways that felt posh and like they did not obstruct. It has some aspects I would changed, parts I feel could’ve been done a little better, and impulses I feel could’ve been reeled back, but it didn’t swallow its own tail, and made for an entertaining film.