Let's Scare Julie

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Let's Scare Julie
"Johnson does impressive work, rarely getting to pause for breath and carrying her character through a difficult arc." | Photo: Courtesy of FrightFest

When you're a teenager, life comes at you fast. Difficult social and moral choices sometimes have to be made in the blink of an eye, with little experience to ground them in and all sorts of peer pressure affecting your choices. Jud Cremata's feature début unspools as a single sequence - not quite one take, as there are brief cutaways to phones which probably cover for crew movements or difficulties in the edit - capturing this sense of urgency in what may be the last night of Emma's life.

Emma (Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson) lives with her little sister Lily (Dakota Baccelli) in a large suburban house. Across the street is a house with a sinister reputation. It's inhabited by the titular Julie, whom she knows very little about. In the absence of facts, fantasy flourishes. Julie's story has become tangled up with urban legends and ghost stories, just the sort of tales that get bandied about on a long Autumn night when your friends are not supposed to be in your room but they're laughing and shushing one another so loudly that it's likely that half the street can hear them.

Copy picture

The first part of the film sees the girls talking, exploring Emma's house and playing tricks on each other. This is a major aspect of their social interaction and it often involves trying to scare each other. Cremata captures their banter perfectly and the young actors fully inhabit their characters, interacting with a naturalism that's vanishingly rare in cinematic depictions of girls their age. Viewer tolerance of this is likely to vary. A lot of people are hostile to such girls in real life or want to forget having been like them, but their stories deserve to be told like anyone else's. Cremata tells this well.

We move onto less familiar territory when the girls decide - believably enough - to play a prank on Julie. They want to give her a scare so they can all have a good laugh about it. In their limited world, it has not occurred to them that other people live or think differently, that life doesn't always follow the same rules. They have no idea what they're getting into. All Emma knows is that when some of the girls who have gone across the road don't come back, and when a possible threat to her sister emerges, she's going to have to get into it too.

Following its young protagonists as closely as it does, Let's Scare Julie is sometimes incoherent and hard to follow, but parts of it work better because we never pin down exactly what they mean, including a phrase that will linger in your memory. It's very much centred on Emma's perspective, tonally as well as visually, and the way Cremata manages this shifting tone is one of its greatest strengths. Johnson also does impressive work, rarely getting to pause for breath and carrying her character through a difficult arc. Alongside the usual struggle that we see in films about escape or attempts to redeem past mistakes, there's a focus on the pain that comes with recognising and taking on new responsibilities as part of the passage into adult life - a journey which Emma may never complete.

Though not wholly successful, this is a bold film which goes where others fear to tread, presenting teenage girls as they are rather than as most horror films like to imagine them, with all the urgency and cruelty and confusion and rough edges that involves.

Reviewed on: 25 Oct 2020
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Let's Scare Julie packshot
The victim of a prank by her cousin’s friends, Emma ups the ante by planning to scare the mysterious, reclusive girl who lives across the street. But what starts off as a simple plan becomes a nightmare.

Director: Jud Cremata

Writer: Jud Cremata

Starring: Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson, Isabel May, Odessa A’zion, Brooke Sorenson

Year: 2020

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Frightfest 2020

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