★ / ★★★★
Writer-director Jennifer Harrington opens “Shook” in a tight frame: three ecstatic makeup influencers on a private red carpet event with adoring media asking easy, breezy questions meant to underscore the fab life of being an internet sensation. But then it cuts to a wide shot. It turns out that the “private red carpet event” is taking place in a random, dark, janky parking lot and that the red carpet itself barely fifteen feet long. It mirrors Rudy Giuliani holding a humiliating press conference in the back parking lot of Four Seasons Total Landscaping.
It is a hilarious image and so viewers cannot be faulted for thinking that the rest of the picture will skewer the idea of controlled or filtered images, posted for the sake of likes, heart emojis, and self-validation. “Finally!” I thought, “A horror movie that steps out of the gate from a specific angle. This should be good.” But what a nosedive. Aside from this terrific opening scene, the rest fails to measure up. It turns out to be yet another the-killer-is-actually-inside-the-house movie.
Think of Wes Craven’s “Scream,” specifically the classic scene with Drew Barrymore answering the telephone and the killer wanting to play a game. Now, remove all the self-awareness, subversive humor, and creativity. Take away the likability, personality, and star quality of the lead, too. Then turn off the lights so that rooms are as dark as possible, making it difficult to make sense of the action at times. Lastly, turn the energy dial from 10 to about 1.5—2 if you’re feeling generous. Now you have an accurate idea of the torturous, redundant, interminable, worthless eighty-eight minutes that “Shook” offers. By the end of it, I wanted a shower because it was such a depressing and empty experience. What possessed the writer-director to make this movie? What’s the point?
Mia (Daisye Tutor) is supposed to be an influential figure, but we are never shown how or why. If her genre, or expertise, is cosmetics, then it is the writer’s job to make the viewer, who may not be interested in makeup, feel as though the subject’s occupation or passion is at least worthy of looking into. Makeup is creative, fun, and has an extended history across cultures. And if Mia were solely in it for money or fame, then that should be clear, too. In other words, it is the writer’s job to establish interest, curiosity, or intrigue outside what will eventually happen to the character. Because if there is no reason to root for the character, then why should we care whether she lived or died? This is not Horror 101, not even Storytelling 101; it is Common Sense 101.
Putting that aside, tension is non-existent in this boring and repetitive slasher. While social media is a crucial aspect of the tale, it is apparent that the filmmakers care more about how private chats or comment sections are presented rather than getting the feeling of a scene precisely right. Perhaps this might have worked if the material leaned more toward horror-comedy, but in either case its imagination has flatlined by the fifteen-minute mark. You sit there and wonder what the storyteller wishes to say about the protagonist, about our culture, about us as consumers.
My disappointment—and anger—stems from the fact that “Shook” could have been a movie of real substance. And yet minute after minute the choices made are lazy, uninspiring, and full of pessimism. It expects us to be brain dead, to consume its low-calorie “entertainment,” and tolerate it. Instead of elevating the horror genre—a genre that I love—it cheapens it, it spits upon it. I felt no passion in this work, no color, no flavor, no joy, no purpose. It’s just… there.