Directed by: Jennifer Harrington. Starring: Daisye Tutor, Emily Goss, Nicole Posener. Runtime: 1h 28 min.
In the latest social media satire, the Shudder Original, Shook, it features fitting use of the title. After a social media influencer, Genelle (played by real-life influencer Genelle Seldon) is murdered in the opening scene by a serial killer, our main character Mia (Daisye Tutor), in reaction to the news says, deadpan to her livestream, “I’m shook.”
She then monologues that this is a time for selfless acts, so she’s going to babysit Chico, a dog owned by her sister Nicole (Emily Goss), instead of going to a livestream with her friends. These bits of satire are solid, and some are funny – especially the opening scene when Mia and Genelle are being photographed on the red carpet for their followers, only for it to be revealed they’re on a makeshift red carpet against a plain building in an empty parking lot.
This cements the commentary that people are different online than in person. This commentary is nothing new so it keeps Shook from entirely being its own thing, but the satirical writing is fine. However, it does lose some bite as the film goes on to shift focus to the slasher aspect of the film.
That aspect starts with Mia dog-sitting. She then gets a strange friend request from one of her neighbours, and then the neighbour calls her on the phone and the games begin, forcing her into life-or-death questions where she has to pick who lives between her friends (including Nicola Posener as Lani; Stephanie Simbari as Jade; and Octavius J. Johnson as Mia’s boyfriend Santi).
This turns into a mix of other films, most notably Wes Craven’s Scream with its structure and especially a more underwhelming version of Ghostface on the phone asking Mia questions. Instead of horror film trivia, he asks her questions that are more mundane, but tie into the story neatly. Also coming to mind is a film called Don’t Hang Up where two online prank bros get punished for their dangerous pranks as the tables are turned on them.
Some directorial decisions by Jennifer Harrington are neat here, especially the film’s visual style when Mia receives texts, at one point the text showing up on her front door like the Magic 8 ball animation. Other times there are characters beside her as she reads the text – though at one point this gets strange when she hears someone and she imagines them licking her ear… Also, while much of the writing is flat during the runtime, the third act has a development that intrigued me once we learned the villain’s motives.
It’s also where the baffling aspects of the film come into play in terms of plot holes or just annoying developments, like the sense that the killer is not even letting Mia decide and just pre-killing the friends since it doesn’t make sense how the villain does everything so seamlessly and maneuvers around unseen. In Scream it makes sense because Wes Craven came up with an answer for (mostly) every plot hole. Here, it’s not so clear, so you’ll just have to forgive a lot more to find enjoyment.
The main unsettling aspect, and not in a good way, is the dog serial killer who really has no place in the film other than to motivate Mia to dog sit. A scene where we’re shown uncomfortable, unnervingly realistic photos of dogs on “news websites” about the killer makes it apparent we could have done without this sub-plot as there are only throw-away mentions throughout the film.
As for the good horror, while we don’t see every single kill which disappoints; we get to see the main samples of violence for each one. There’s also decent cringe horror within some of Mia’s tasks that I liked; making it inch closer somewhat to Saw, though it never feels like it officially crosses that threshold into the “torture porn” sub-genre.
Shook simply feels mediocre at its core. It works on a surface level as a commentary on social media, showing how fundamentally different people can be from their online personas, but the villain’s motives bog it all down and confuse its satire. As well, some of Mia’s decisions make her unlikable at times. By the end she does seem to be an improved person; one who might react to the madness of this evening and say “I’m Shook” with at least some conviction.
Shook is a Shudder Original that began streaming on Shudder in all territories (U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia and New Zealand) on Feb. 18, 2021.