Don’t confuse it with Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. That’s 1970’s surrealist horror. Let’s Scare Julie is the latest indie horror with a trick up it’s sleeve looking to fill 2020’s void in the absence of theatrical releases. First-time writer and director Jud Cremata pulls a trick out of Alfred Hitchcock’s playbook. In his 1948 thriller, Rope, Hitchcock famously filmed in one continuous shot (in fact, there were edits in the movie). Now Let’s Scare Julie borrows the same approach in its story of a girls’ slumber party prank gone horribly wrong. Can it join Host – one of this year’s breakout horror hits – as an unexpected favourite?
Everything starts off as a typical slumber party. Pranks, banter, friendly teasing, and a spooky story about the strange new girl, Julie, who recently moved into the house across the street. Recently orphaned, Emma struggles to fit in with her cousin Taylor’s friends. But Taylor’s tale of her hidden neighbour and the strange history of the house piques the girls’ curiosity. Soon Taylor and her friends cross the street to play a prank on Julie while Emma stays behind. Only some of the girls make it back.
Let’s Scare Julie Overwhelms its Technical Achievement with a Cluttered Story
Whether Cremata does indeed film Let’s Scare Julie in one uninterrupted take is beside the point. By and large, Cremata pulls off the technical achievement (with some clear edits) resulting in a movie that truly unfolds in real time. In theory, the movie’s simple ‘prank gone wrong’ story and this approach should go hand-in-hand to create uneasy horror. To some extent, Let’s Scare Julie succeeds. Similar to more celebrated mumblegore movies, Let’s Scare Julie is a slow-burn. There’s a fair amount of teen girl banter, pranks, and storytelling before Cremata begins to dial things up. And the ‘burn’ here evokes some genuine tension and unease.
…it’s too much for a filmmaking approach that requires focus.
Where things go wrong is a story that quickly clutters what needed to be a focused race to the finish. What starts as a familiar horror set-up about a prank gone wrong quickly expands to include a mysterious old woman and missing teen. Soon thereafter Cremata puts on the brakes and takes a detour with an unnecessary scene with a drunk father. Later we learn our mysterious girl across the street is a burn victim. In addition to these emerging story threads, Cremata throws in a last-minute bullying story. Whether all these threads do in fact connect is almost irrelevant. Simply put, it’s too much for a filmmaking approach that requires focus.
Let’s Scare Julie Confuses Unfulfilled Promise With Ambiguity
For a movie that seemingly builds towards an inevitable moment – a trip to the house across the street- Let’s Scare Julie tries its best to put it off. When Cremata finally follows Emma to the ‘terrible place’ it almost delivers on the teased potential. Certainly, Cremata shows skill with building and eliciting tension. Moreover, Let’s Scare Julie often benefits from knowing that what’s unseen is often scarier than what’s on the screen. But where The Blair Witch Project earned its ambiguous ending, Cremata opts for no ending. No one is likely to be happy with the movie’s abrupt finale. None of the movie’s ideas come together and what’s left is ‘all build up’ and no payoff.
No one is likely to be happy with the movie’s abrupt finale.
It’s too bad because all the performers do an admirable job of making the movie’s uninterrupted take work. Though no one lights the screen on fire, the young cast is convincing and adds to the feel of watching awful things unfold in real time. In particular, Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson, playing Emma, impresses with her natural delivery. And Odessa A’Zion ensures that what could have been a one-note character
Let’s Scare Julie Never Quite Realizes Its Full Potential
There’s a lot to admire and like about Let’s Scare Julie. Cremata largely pulls off the technical feat of filming in one single take. Most importantly, Cremata ensures the ‘single take’ isn’t just a gimmick – it becomes integral to the story, creating a sense of urgency. And the performances feel natural, thus adding to the movie’s overall tone. But Let’s Scare Julie takes too long (even for an 83 minute movie) to get to where it’s going and then fails to deliver. Too much clutter in the story also dilutes what should have been focused race to the climax. Ultimately, Let’s Scare Julie will keep you watching until the end, but you’re likely to be disappointed.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C+