Blood in the Snow Film Festival Review: Shall We Play? (2020)

Directed by: Ann Forry. Starring: Matreya Scarrwener, Jessica McLeod, Michelle Creber. Runtime: 1h 27 min. Minor spoilers follow.

Troubled teen Stacy (Matreya Scarrwener) is being plagued by nightmares and visions. When she confides in her best friends Jess (Jessica McLeod) and Emma (Michelle Creber), and Jess suggests a new phone application — the titular Shall We Play?  — that helps the user communicate with the dead.

I am all for this concept of killer apps or killer technology (think Countdown or even One Missed Call), but the narrative for this film never really got going, and I didn’t really like the main occurrence that ties everything together. This is the incessant bullying of Stacy after her boyfriend, Matt (Blake Williams), gets Stacy drunk and invites friends over to take nudes of her and write on her as she’s unconscious.

The ensuing shaming and victim blaming feels off for a horror film, as Stacy trying to get over her past is already an interesting enough aspect of the character. To the credit of screenwriters Ann Forry (who also directs) and Emma Raine Walker, the film’s sculpted as a commentary on our reliance to technology, as well as being a fable to being responsible online – from being careful about what you send people, to also being careful of downloading shady apps that aren’t Apple verified – or ones that aren’t OK’d by your parents – as they could have spirits in them that are ready to tear your world apart.

This shaming aspect does help this stray from the standard killer app structure, though I’ll admit I was excited to see a Canadian slasher kind-of story of a phone application killing a group of friends. We can some of that, and I can respect what we received instead as we still do get a bit of slashing. There are some solid aspects to this film, especially with Stacy’s thoughtful characterization, and Scarrwener as Stacy is the best part about this.

SWP_32
Matreya Scarrwener in Shall We Play? (Courtesy of Blood in the Snow Film Festival.)

She has a natural charm about her that makes Stacy very likable, and the moments where she’s freaking out – as she really leans into the anxiety of the character and situation – are believable. It’s everyone around her that feels unnatural, from the parents to even Grandma Betty (Dolores Drake), Stacy’s constant support system. As well, certain characters besides Stacy just are not that likable. This is especially the case for the film’s token mean girl Jess, who also happens to be one of Stacy’s best friends. The character is cruel (“do you even remember it? How do you know you didn’t pose?” Jess asks Stacy when shaming her for the nudes) and she just seems like an all-around bad idea, one to cement that there’s bullying in real-life and one that shows high school is a vicious jungle even though this film never features a high school.

When it comes to the horror itself, the mystery of unpacking the game makes sense by the end of it, and it’s somewhat interesting learning how attached Stacy is to its history. Some scares are strong, but a lot of them are false scares that underwhelm. Like when Stacy imagines a pizza guy randomly shouting at her, or when we watch a tea kettle scream and then get a quick edit of someone picking it up, these both feel like first draft ideas that weren’t workshopped further.

Even when the girls first look at the app, the scene feels really creepy and the tension building is strong, until it’s destroyed by the two best friends going to run out of the house and running into Matt at the front door. The tense music immediately stops and everyone forgets about the game because the boyfriend is here. The tension break feels unnatural; and I would have loved to have seen Forry build this scene to a scare that’s actually rewarding because she directs some solid tension elsewhere. Instead, this scene’s just a bummer.

Score: 50/100

This film played as part of the Blood in the Snow Film Festival on October 29, 2020.

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