Shook

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Shook
"Shook is a film which hinges heavily on twists and turns and sometimes gets lost in its own cleverness, too busy trying to surprise its audience to explore the richer narrative options open to it."

Social media influencers are to this generation of genre films what models were in the Sixties or pop stars in the Nineties. They're used for decoration, comedy and - all too often - as targets for anger, in stories where the audience is expected to decry their vanity and be entertained by their suffering. Giallo films responded to this in the Sixties with a hyper-stylised approach which prevented the subject being taken too seriously, and the strikingly shot opening sequence of this film suggests that's the game it's playing too. As its tone changes, however, it emerges as one of relatively few films as interested in attitudes to influencers as in the influencers themselves.

At the centre of it is Mia (Daisye Tutor), a supermarket cashier who happens to have the sought-after look of the moment and pretends to be rich on the internet in order to market it. She has a cluster of associates whom she thinks of as friends but who really seem more like cross-marketing opportunists performing in the parallel universe that's sold by online channels and TV as Reality. Her only real human connection seems to be to her sister Nicole (Emily Goss), who took care of their mother through the final stages of a neurological disease (also a popular theme in horror at the moment), and that's tinged with sadness, as Nicole has been diagnosed with the same disease herself. With the prospect of a future as a carer waiting her, it's understandable that Mia wants to live whilst she has the chance, or at least appear to live - in small-r reality, she doesn't seem to be having much fun at all.

After the death of another influencer whom she had been working with, Mia decides that it would be a good look to do something unselfish and spend an evening pooch-sitting her sister's dog, Chico. Somebody has been brutally killing dogs in the area (there are images here which could distress some viewers even if they have no problem with watching humans get sliced and diced) so this is about more than just feeding him whilst Nicole is away. Of course she figures that she can spend the time chatting to her friends online anyway. When Chico disappears, however, the situation starts to look rather different. Then she gets an unexpected phone call and finds herself caught up in a sinister game which could have very nasty consequences.

Shook is a film which hinges heavily on twists and turns and sometimes gets lost in its own cleverness, too busy trying to surprise its audience to explore the richer narrative options open to it. What starts off promisingly ends up treading a narrow, familiar path. The shadow of a hereditary illness which causes mood swings has to do a lot of heavy lifting. Mia's divided self provides an interesting point of focus when she becomes concerned not only by what's happening around her but by the fate of her more popular, imaginary self, and Tutor at least gets room to give her character sympathetic emotions, but the film doesn't gel quite as well as it could. By the time she asks her tormentor why she should extend any trust, viewers may be feeling the same. Too much trickery makes it harder to care.

Despite its shortcomings, Shook deserves credit for trying to do a little more with its themes than the average slasher film, and although the game is tiresome - both n itself and as a theme - director Jennifer Harrington seems to be aware of this and trying to pull off something more complicated. She handles the suspense well and devotees of such fare will find it a delight.

Reviewed on: 14 Feb 2021
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Shook packshot
A social media star finds herself at the centre of a terrifying game.

Director: Jennifer Harrington

Writer: Jennifer Harrington, Alesia Glidewell

Starring: Daisye Tutor, Nicola Posener, Grant Rosenmeyer, Emily Goss, Octavius J. Johnson, Stephanie Simbari

Year: 2021

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US

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