Directed by Jennifer Harrington.
Starring Daisye Tutor, Nicola Posener, Octavius J. Johnson, Stephanie Simbari and Emily Goss.
A beauty influencer unravels as a routine dog-sitting evening becomes a high-stakes game in which her family and friends are threatened by an unseen predator.
Social media influencers are having a moment – and not a particularly good one. A succession of winter lockdowns have forced bored Brits indoors without the silver lining of meeting friends or hunkering down in a pub for the evening. Meanwhile, Love Island contestants, fitness fanatics and make-up maestros with tens of thousands of Instagram followers have jetted off to Dubai and the Caribbean, basking in the sunshine and relaxed restrictions around social contact. With that in mind, it’s theoretically quite a good time for Jennifer Harrington’s Shook – a sophomore horror feature with its eye turned to the facade of Insta-perfection.
Certainly, the opening set piece is a stunner. After a montage credits sequence introducing online beauty kingpins Genelle (Genelle Seldon) and Mia (Daisye Tutor), we see them pouting and posing on a glamorous red carpet, which is subsequently revealed to be a tiny set at the edge of a grotty-looking car park. Retreating to the bathroom after her designer doggie makes a mess of her gown, Genelle notices something wrong and is soon impaled bloodily through the throat by her bright blue stiletto heel – a colourful tableau of primary colours of which Dario Argento would be proud.
It’s a dramatic and violent opening, and one which shocks Mia into a drippingly insincere post in which she says she is going to dogsit for her sister Nicole (Emily Goss), who is worried about the serial puppy killer marauding through California. In doing so, she has ducked out of a live stream hosted by her boyfriend Santi (Octavius J. Johnson) and influencer buddies (Nicola Posener and Stephanie Simbari). Soon, she loses sight of the dog and begins to receive calls from strange neighbour Kellan (Grant Rosenmeyer), which quickly turn sinister and violent.
What follows is essentially a redux of numerous social media horror stories from recent years, with the brilliant Black Mirror episode ‘Shut Up and Dance’ the most obvious comparison. In fact, Harrington’s story often feels like a rejected pitch for Charlie Brooker’s telly anthology, albeit a movie which lacks the arrow-focus and specific targeting of that show’s best episodes. Shook sets itself up as a critique of vapid influencer culture and the inherent fakery of social media, but often veers wildly in other directions as it gets strangled by its own magician’s sleeve of plot twists.
It’s fortunate then that the movie features a dynamite lead performance, with Daisye Tutor perfectly embodying every element of Mia. She’s comfortable smiling into the front-facing camera of a phone as a swaggering influencer, but also excels in scenes which require rage, terror and physical endurance. It’s a traditional scream queen performance of the best kind – particularly as she’s almost always alone on screen, acting against a voice on the other side of the phone. That the movie works at all – which it does – is testament to her committed performance.
The setup is tense, but problems arise when the story begins to unravel and Harrington’s script unveils its myriad twists and turns. Every subversion throws up more questions than it answers and calls into question the motivations of just about every character, not to mention the frayed edges of a handful of very loose threads. The first few total reversals are enjoyable, but Harrington forces the audience to reset expectations over and over to the point that every action loses any meaning it might once have had.
Rather than clicking into satisfying place by the time the credits roll, Shook feels raggedy and in need of tightening several notches. Despite a killer central performance, it short-changes its supporting cast with delivering shoddy dialogue into smartphone cameras. The film’s smatterings of engaging and intriguing social commentary are only ever brief flashes, with generic genre stodge almost always getting in the way.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.