Price of Fame: Shook (2021) - Reviewed

(Image Courtesy of Shudder)

What would you do for 15 minutes of fame? Would you give up your friends? Your family? How well do you even know the people around you? These are the questions asked of Mia (Daisye Tutor) during one horrific evening of dog sitting in Jennifer Harrington's Shook. 

Mia is a burgeoning social media superstar. Becoming semi-famous after regularly promoting cosmetic products on her various socials under the name @makeupbymia, she and her friends go to elaborate lengths to keep up the facade, including staging red carpet premieres and lying to each other about their occupations. Unknown to her friends, Mia's mother has just passed away from a rare condition known as Livingston's Disease. Not much is known about the illness other than it causes a swift deterioration of the mind and erratic behavior. 

On a night that Mia and her friends are meant to livestream together, a regular occurrence for the crew, she gets a call from her estranged sister, Nicole (Emily Gross). Nicole, in the early stages of the same disease that killed their mother, needs to go out of town to receive treatment. Due to a recent rash of serial dog murders, she doesn't want to leave her dog alone and asks Mia to watch him. Mia, hesitant to give up on her beloved followers for one night, obliges. Unfortunately for Mia, her followers and social media clout are about to become the least of her problems as the dog immediately goes missing and she begins to receive strange calls from her sister's creepy neighbor. To make matters worse, her friends won't stop badgering her to abandon the dog and come over. Thrust into a terrifying cat and mouse game, Mia must find the dog, confront her priorities and survive the night while the walls of her reality shatter around her. 

(Image Courtesy of Shudder)

If it wasn't readily apparent, there’s quite a bit going on in Shook. Luckily, perhaps remarkably even, Harrington manages to carve out just enough  despite a sparse runtime. Helping her tell her story are impressive visual tricks that do a lot of the expository heavy lifting. Texts, pictures and videos from Mia’s phone and laptop project on walls, throw pillows and doors around her. Her friends appear next to her or behind her, whispering threats, compliments and dares. 

Her inner life is laid bare in front us, a life built upon perceptions and lies. Mia’s whole world lives behind that screen and it’s a brilliant masterstroke to let it seep out of the digital world and use it to decorate the real world. A delirious disorientation overtakes Mia as she struggles to understand what’s happening to her and why. Are her friends in on it? Is the neighbor the dog killer? And why won’t her sister pick up the phone? These questions swirl around your head and their manifestations swirl around the screen. It’s a terrific way to engross a viewer into a narrative that isn’t all that engrossing on its own. 

(Image Courtesy of Shudder)

For a less than 90-minute sprint, Shook packs quite a bit in and while admirable, that’s what holds it back. For the amount of questions that populate the film, Harrington doesn’t seem too interested in interrogating any of them. Better films like Ingrid Goes West investigate social media obsession to terrifying results so it’s not incumbent upon Shook to break new ground. It’s just frustratingly facile and veers way too closely to hand wringing speechifying. You’d be hard-pressed to not imagine a teen watching this and eye rolling at how on the nose it is with what it thinks influencer and “stan” culture is. For a film that thinks it’s speaking to the moment, it’s disappointingly out of touch. 

If you’re going to have this shallow of a depiction of clout chasing then the horror film within needs to scare you. Shook only barely manages to do that. Harrington’s creepy atmosphere only goes so far. At a certain point, you just wish the film had any propulsive motion. It moves in fits and starts giving way to reveal after reveal that all builds to a barely decent payoff. A payoff, however, that only works if you care. Like her burgeoning starlet within, it’s a film chasing meaning in all the wrong outlets leaving a hollow shell that looks great but says very little. 

It’s all such a shame. Harrington undoubtedly has the goods as a horror director. Combining surrealism with the second and third screens we’ve become so accustomed to, she creates somewhat of a new visual language in terror that glues you to your seat more than any of the actual scares. Daisye Tutor is the other ingredient holding the shaky foundation together. She’s dynamite in the lead. Picking up and dropping the influencer facade with ease, she tears through the film with that propulsion that you’re missing elsewhere. She’s asked to do so much and excels at all of it. It’s not nearly as fun a performance because that’s not what’s required of her but it’s very reminiscent of Jessica Rothe’s “Oh this person is a star” performance in the Happy Death Day movies. What made Rothe’s performance so special wasn’t simply that she could sell scream queen with comedy. It’s that she nails the emotional kicks to the gut in ways that really make you feel for her. Tutor has that exact quality. As familial revelations come to the fore, Mia is put through an even darker wringer. Tutor is forced to move beyond the “on/off” binary Mia’s mastered as a burgeoning influencer and into something more complex. She acquits herself very well and sells the family ties in ways the script fails to. 

Tutor’s fun turn and Harrington’s surprising and thrilling visuals anchor Shook and save it from being a listless mess. They lift the film to a fun little genre exercise that, while falling prey to some “ok boomer” level commentary, makes for a thrilling jaunt into the digital age of fame. For a film so keen on telling its audience to do less and embrace your more pertinent surroundings, you wish it had taken its own advice. 

-Brandon Streussnig