By: Kayla Caldwell
UNTITLED HORROR MOVIE is a Scream for a younger, pandemic-affected generation. Comprised entirely of screens - FaceTime, Zoom, webcams, etc. - with each individual actor in charge of their own backdrop, hair, and makeup, UNTITLED HORROR MOVIE accomplishes a surprising lot with what they had to work with. The film is not, however, lacking in talent, from director and co-writer Nick Simon, and star and co-writer Luke Baines, to appearances by Aisha Tyler, Kal Penn, Never Have I Ever’s Darren Barnet, and more.
The movie begins with Declan’s (Baines) agent telling him in a less-than-tactful way that not only is his show, a supernatural teen drama in the veins of The Vampire Diaries, cancelled, but he is being dropped by his agency. To be fair Declan is literally FaceTiming his agent (Penn) while peeing, so it’s hard to feel too badly for him, at least at first.
In a Zoom call we meet Declan’s castmates from the CW-esque series, booked-his-second-audition Max (Barnet), takes-every-call-with-a-glass-of-wine Kelly (Claire Holt), one-with-the-crystals Chrissy (Katherine McNamara), suffers-no-bullshit Alex (Emmy Raver-Lampman), and “you can’t tell a writer what to do” Kip (Timothy Granaderos), who happens to have the solution to the group’s current problem. See, if their show is in fact cancelled, then they’re all pretty screwed, because their non-compete clauses mean the studio owns them for the next 12 months, so they can’t audition for anyone else.
However, Kip thinks he’s got a winning horror movie idea, which could turn their bad luck around if it eventually gets picked up by a studio. Some, ahem, Kelly and Alex, are more skeptical than others, vis a vis Kip’s screenwriting talent. However, they’re all acutely aware of what could happen to their careers if they’re sidelined for that long, so what’s the worst that could happen, right?
Well, in a tight 87 minutes, you’re about to find out. Kip’s initial storyline for his found footage movie featured his castmates getting haunted and possessed by some sort of evil spirit or demon. However, when Chrissy (who is quite like Three’s Company’s famously ditzy yet beautiful Chrissy) pulls out a pendulum, which helps her make decisions, everybody starts brainstorming to help mold a more fleshed-out plot. Declan pulls up some banishing spell he found online, and they have Chrissy read it, while holding her pendulum. Kip thinks they’ve unlocked the perfect storyline, but what if they’ve unleashed something else?
UNTITLED HORROR STORY reads like a love letter to Los Angeles and the culture of Hollywood, but if it were written with the kind of “it builds character” love of your sassy uncle at the family barbecue. Which is to say - it’s hilarious, it pulls no punches, and it is not afraid to take itself down for a good laugh.
McNamara kills as the blonde bombshell who’s 100 percent committed to the role, but not as much to self-awareness. At one point she earnestly says she wasn’t sure if Kip wanted her to go “full Charlize,” and it’s gems like that that make this film so special. Alex is all of us, pointing out any plot holes, calling out Chrissy’s “special effects,” and generally saying what we’re all thinking. Max is almost too much to handle as a devout student of acting teacher Leslie Kahn. She makes a laugh-out-loud funny cameo in the film, and even though I had no idea who she was prior to this, it was still a truly good laugh.
Kip is hilarious as the ringleader who perhaps takes himself too seriously, but still means well. And his baggage with ex-girlfriend, Kelly the diva, highlights the awkward truth after hooking up with a coworker. The myriad jokes in the film dedicated to making fun of Kip’s new mustache are so much funnier than they have any right to be.
I lived for every second Kelly was on screen, downing glasses of white wine, before rolling her eyes at Kip’s writing. She’s judge-y and critical, but still not above filming the scenes, just like everyone else. Last, but not least, Declan is the lovable asshole you’d probably hate if you actually had to manage him. But since we don’t, it’s beyond enjoyable watching him read everyone in the room.
Now, I’ve talked a lot about Hollywood and LA stereotypes so far, but Baines and Simon specifically set out to make the most self-aware, tongue-in-cheek script, without being so obscure that anyone outside of LA won’t get it. Having seen the film, I can confirm that whether you know these people as horrible college group mates, insufferable workout class acquaintances, or even from your own family, these are archetypes you will recognize no matter where you are from.
For all of its humor, UNTITLED HORROR MOVIE doesn’t forget its own title. There are still plenty of “Wait - did you just see that?!” moments and spooky sequences to satisfy any horror fan. Another beautiful thing? UNTITLED HORROR MOVIE clearly takes place during the pandemic, what with everyone stuck in their own homes and only meeting via Zoom. However, they never talk about it. You don’t have to be afraid that you’ll press play for an escape from reality, but just be left focusing on the tragic state of the world in which we are currently living.
Fans of Shudder’s brilliant Host, will find their dream comedy horror in UNTITLED HORROR MOVIE. I’ve already seen it twice, and I’m still happy to compliment it, so you know it’s a good one. It’s a good laugh, and a great way to get a taste of the Hollywood scene without actually having to be here. (Trust me, you don’t want to. It feels like it’s a million degrees in the valley right now.) It also happens to be available on iTunes and Amazon starting June 15. Do yourself a favor, and check it out!