By Sara Kinne-Lugo
Admittedly, I wanted to see SHOOK because of the SAW-esque movie description - “When Mia, a social media star, becomes the target of an online terror campaign, she has to solve a series of games to prevent people she cares about from getting murdered.” But that’s just a part of the story in SHOOK. Written and directed by Jennifer Harrington, SHOOK stars Daisye Tutor as Mia, a seemingly thriving makeup influencer. In the opening scene, we take a peek into the reality of her situation (a la @influencersinthewild), as the exclusive red carpet event she is live streaming from is revealed to be staged ‘for the gram’ in an empty parking lot. Meanwhile, there’s a dog killer on the loose (didn't see that coming), that happens upon Mia’s fellow influencer and her petite pup in the restroom. Sparing the dog, the killer delivers a lethal patent leather stiletto jab to the throat, that while a bit of a “yeah, right” moment, still caused me to squeak audibly with glee.
The shocking death inspires Mia to forgo a scheduled stream with her boyfriend and co-influencers to instead dogsit Chico at her sister Nicole’s (Emily Goss) place. Nicole has to leave town for testing to see if she has the severe hereditary disease that took their mother’s life. Important to note, Nicole was their mother’s sole caretaker, while Mia was otherwise busy, well, being an influencer. While settling in for the night, Mia gets a call from her sister’s creepy neighbor, Kellan (Grant Rosenmeyer) that seems rather obsessed with her. He wants to play a game. From there, and through the first half of the film, Harrington builds up suspense, swarming Mia with intense realizations and life-or-death decisions. Mia also begins to notice that the questions Kellen’s asking are hitting very close to home, too close. As in, how could he even know the answers himself?
Unfortunately, the movie starts to unravel as the twists become increasingly far-fetched, relying too heavily on the viewer to suspend their disbelief. Loose ends are tied up with the film writing equivalent of your mother telling you “because I said so.” In fact, I rewatched the ending after debating with my husband about the sequence of key events. I argued that we must have remembered them out of order because it just wasn’t realistic the other way. I was wrong.
Many of the attempts at horror come from elements that are too easy. Yes, those with an aversion to animal mutilation and needles will want to avert their eyes for brief moments, but frankly, those scares are low-hanging fruit. (SPOILER ALERT: There are brief snaps of gruesome dog murder scenes, but Chico survives!)
One of the things I did appreciate about the film was the artistic way that viewers were shown what was being typed, shown, and spoken to Mia on her devices. Sometimes it was a projection of the laptop screen on the wall behind her, sometimes it was the person on the other line taking shape as if they were there in person, whispering in her ear. It was an interesting aesthetic choice that to me, seemed to portray how invasive social media can be in the users' life. I also don’t want to discredit the work of Tutor and Goss in this film. They both managed to make their characters believable, and even relatable, despite some questionable plot turns.
If I had to describe SHOOK in one word, it would be improbable. While I clearly understood the social commentary the writer was going for, I had a hard time believing the way the events unfolded. It had some solid pieces that didn’t quite come together in the end for me. That said, it's still good for a casual slasher/thriller watch if you can set plot holes and probability off to the side.
SHOOK also stars Nicola Poesner, Stephanie Simbari, Octavius J. Johnson, and Genelle Seldon and is available to view now on Shudder.