In Let’s Scare Julie, writer/director Jud Cremata presents a cast made almost entirely of young girls...
...Because of this, the story includes fears largely associated with teenagerhood: losing one’s parents, the unseen (or unknown), urban legends, and above all else, mean girls. After a family tragedy, Emma (Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson) moves to a new neighborhood with a mysterious past. First, a little boy across the street goes missing and his absence triggers spooky occurrences at Emma’s new house. Then, the presence of the new unseen neighbor girl encourages a malicious prank, except a couple of the mischief-makers, including Emma’s little sister Lilly (Dakota Baccelli), do not come back. Emma’s world continues to shrink as her remaining family members (and newfound frenemies) all lose touch with reality.
Before the start of the film, Emma lost her father and now she and her little sister live with their cousin Taylor (Isabel May) and her parents. One night, three of Taylor’s “friends” welcome Emma to their group with a late-night asthma-inducing scare prank, and then subject the poor girl to an evening of their terrible and selfish behavior. At the center of the tiresome threesome is Madison (Odessa Adlon), who craves attention and touches, takes, and says whatever she wants. Life seems absolutely miserable for Emma, but a whispered conversation away from the mean girls shows Taylor and Emma do have a close cousin bond when they are not being manipulated and abused by Madison, Paige (Jessica Sarah Flaum), and Jess (Brooke Sorenson). The exposition gets unloaded right away when we learn about Emma’s recent orphan status and the mysterious neighbor lady Miss Durer (Valorie Hubbard) with the supernatural presence. The stories set up the creepiness of the movie, but unfortunately Taylor’s obnoxious friends interrupt the unraveling of the tales. Once the three uninvited guests quiet down and stop rummaging through Emma’s possessions, the tone reflects the ghost story at the heart of the movie.
The house across the street holds a history of disappearances and creepy occurrences, making the home a whispered place of urban legends. Suspiciously, the arrival of Emma coincides with new neighbors in the previous Durer residence. A father and daughter with an air of mystery moved in, piquing the immature girls’ curiosity. Rampant gossip and speculation arise when the group attempts to piece together the identity of the new neighbor Julie, and with the enticement of ‘fresh meat,’ Taylor and the mean girls head to Julie’s house for yet another prank. The titular character serves as an interesting plot device because the viewer never actually sees her. A few of the characters mention observing the girl, so we get a partial physical description, but for the most part Julie exists as a MacGuffin and serves only as a means to progress the story.
The film boasts a one take approach which definitely adds to building tension as the viewer’s gaze never gets a rest from the story and the point of view places the audience in the role of an unseen and unheard member of the female party. The scenes all occur in real time, so sometimes a bit of filler plays out to give characters time off screen to travel from one location to the next. A couple of these segments come off as slow and silent, but they contribute to the overall development of Emma’s feelings of isolation and abandonment. Her parents are dead, her cousin forces her to undergo humiliation, and the adults in her life don’t appear until about an hour in, but when Uncle Vince (Blake Robbins) wakes from his boozy-stupor we soon realize Emma was in better hands with the wicked pranksters.
Emma’s world shrank with the death of her mother and once again with the passing of her father. For most of the movie the character’s life revolves around a room she shares with her cousin. Her past life no longer exists, and she attempts to cram herself and her belongings in a space already established by someone else. Emma’s life grows increasingly more claustrophobic with the overcrowding presence of Madison, Paige, Jess, and Lilly physically pushing her to the edge of the frame. She also essentially loses her voice due to the raucous actions of the other girls.
Amid the topic of loss, the pain and frustration of bullying also plays a large role, which makes sense considering the behavior of the friends, but the ending also tries to force an additional mean-girl storyline as an attempt at a twist. The unique filming strategy works well with including the audience and creating dread, and the cast and themes creates a horror aimed more at young girls (which is a largely ignored demographic in horror), but some unbelievable and rushed plot points make the movie fall apart in the third act. However, the tone and visual depiction of loneliness expertly comes through with Johnson’s acting and Cremata’s framing, so Julie is not without its charm. The slumber-party-esque capers and stalking POV will create some realistic frights for the younger horror fans, but older viewers might find themselves more annoyed with the youth than scared.
Let’s Scare Julie comes to VOD/Digital from Shout! Studios on October 2nd.
By Amylou Ahava
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