29th Oct2020

Frightfest 2020: ‘Let’s Scare Julie’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson, Isabel May, Odessa A’zion, Brooke Sorenson, Jessica Sarah Flaum, Dakota Baccelli, Blake Robbins | Written and Directed by Jud Cremata

Emma has recently moved in with her cousin Taylor after her father’s untimely death. The victim of a prank by Taylor’s friends, Emma ups the ante by planning to scare the mysteriously reclusive girl who lives across the street. All they know is Julie’s alone and the house is rumoured haunted after a little boy vanished years ago. But what starts off as a simple plan becomes a nightmare of wrong choices with horrific results..

Filmed in long continuous takes, with only the odd cut (NOT the one-take many are advertising it as), Let’s Scare Julie uses that particular gimmick to great effect – the handheld camera following around the girls without cutting away (most of the time) brings a great deal of claustrophobia to the proceedings. The use of close-up shots also makes things feel a lot more terrifying – what we see, undoubtedly also connected to the manner in which the movie was filmed, is limited, very limited. It’s like seeing things from one characters perspective without ever using the POV/found footage format; and avoiding the pitfalls of that particular style of filmmaking.

It helps that we’re in the dark as much as the film protagonist Emma. We know that something’s going on across the road, we know something’s wrong. But we, like Emma, don’t know what. Is it a prank – as Emma’s so-called friends have pranked Emma consistently throughout the films opening – or is it something a lot more sinister. The soundtrack certainly suggests sinister goings-on. And perhaps that’s a fault of the film. Whilst we, for the most part, don’t know if this is a prank or real, the soundtrack pretty much states this is all too real and Emma and her friends are in serious danger. Which, whilst the choice of instrumental for the film adds a much-needed air of tension, it also detracts from the mystery.

Speaking of mysteries, it takes an hour before Emma even so much as ventures across the street to Julie’s home, by which time we should – honestly – be knee deep in confusion as to what’s going on; what’s real and what’s not; and just what, if any, game Emma’s friends or possibly playing. Instead the audience is more likely to be screaming “stay away!” And the fact that Emma not only goes into the Julie’s house, but also hangs around investigating what’s going on for even the slightest amount of time, really stretches believability.

As does the cast. These girls, Emma’s friends, are totally obnoxious. Why Emma would be hanging around them is the films first big question. The second is why she would even care about what happens to them given they spend most of their time terrorising her! But then what does save Let’s Scare Julie is Emma. Or more precisely actress Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson. Seeing Johnson’s portrayal of Emma, at first confused by what’s happening but then slowly descending in sheer terror – some might say madness – is the antithesis of every other performance in this film. It’s nuanced, it feels real and most of all it makes the audience sympathetic to Emma. Unlike her “friends” – who I’d much rather have seen slaughtered up on the screen rather than their hinted-at deaths!

But the ending. Dear god. It’s almost as if writer/director Jud Cremata didn’t actually have an ending – with a weird story beat that, I’m assuming, was an attempt to make the camera, and by extension the audience, complicit in the films machinations; before ending with a cop-out dark screen and a scream… What? No answers, no explanation. Not even so much as a hint as to what is going on. We’re let in on the why somewhat. But there’s no answer to what’s going on in sight. And as such Let’s Scare Julie ends not with a terrifying bang but with a maudlin whimper.

* 1/5

Let’s Scare Julie screened on Saturday October 24th as part of this months Frightfest Digital Edition.


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