Director: Jud Cremata
Screenplay: Jud Cremata
Starring: Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson, Isabel May, Odessa A’Zion, Brooke Sorensen, Jessica Sarah Flaum, Dakota Baccelli
Running Time: 83min
Following the loss of her father, Emma and her sister Lilly are living with their cousin Taylor. Over the course of an evening, however, Taylor’s rebellious friends drag the two sisters into a series of pranks that ultimately lead to some sinister goings on in this unfamiliar street.
The concept of the “long take” can be something of a cinematic calling card, whether it’s part of a directors specific flavour, such as the effective long takes in the films of Afonso Cuaron or a technique that is used for an entire picture as in Hitchcock’s Rope or Innaritu’s Birdman. Often employing clever camera tricks and laser precise planning to pull off, it’s rare to see a low budget indie film using such a technique, however writer/director Jud Cremata tries just that in Let’s Scare Julie – sadly it would probably have been a good idea if he hadn’t.
Things start well – a Saul Bass style title sequence complete with jaunty theme tune gives the impression of a film that’s going to play close to Hitchcockian tropes, and the opening scene played with a large degree of ad-libbing from the key players gradually builds a sense of unease in the atmosphere. The film seems to be playing its cards close to its chest, not revealing the true nature of its story. What’s with the creepy house across the street and the mysterious girl Julie who lives there? What about the strange doll that Emma has kept in her deceased father’s belongings? And why does everyone seem scared of Uncle Vince.
There came a point, about half an hour in to Let’s Scare Julie, where I wondered if Cremata was aiming for something very specific with the story. The film opens with Taylor’s friends waking Emma with a prank and maintains a semi-dreamlike feel throughout, from its low key lighting to it’s seemingly disconnected events. Are we witnessing a dream, or even a nightmare? I realised soon, however, that if this was the case then the execution of this idea simply did not work. The film quickly shifts from a sense of intriguing surreality to one of confusing disconnect, something that is not helped by the pacing and structure of the story.
As Taylor’s friends decide to take their pranking out on the “weird” girl across the street, Julie, essentially partaking in a bit of casual breaking and entering for “the lols”, the camera stays with Emma as she remains with her young sister. When things start to get weird and the pranksters begin to vanish, this all happens off screen and is told via broken phone calls and stories after the fact. The suggestion that there is a malevolent force at play never really fully pays off as great swathes of detail are lost amid the rambling ad-libbing from the young actors and the films rapidly becomes confusing and frustrating.
Indeed, the characters themselves work entirely against the film, never seemingly representing the actual behaviour of genuine teenagers. No one is particularly likeable aside from perhaps young Lilly, with the character of Madison (A’zion) being a remarkably loathsome creation. Obnoxious to the point of parody, Madison is one of those characters you want simply to walk off frame and never return – with no foil in the story to deal with her obnoxiousness, this quickly becomes problematic. We never really get attached to any of these characters. We don’t know much, if anything, about their history and that includes our “heroine” Emma. Not being able to engage at any level with the driving force of the plot is a huge problem for any film, and it rapidly drags Let’s Scare Julie down.
Then there’s the aforementioned “single take”, or rather the NOT single take. Despite starting with all good intentions, the illusion of one straight shot is very quickly broken with jarring micro jumps in time and the occasional cut-away, meaning that the sequences where the camera does actually run on feel just like uncomfortably long, poorly edited takes. Add to this aesthetic a score which not only does not fit the jaunty theme song, but never fails to intrude on any sequence it’s placed over. Moments that should be tense become overwrought with the sensation of forced emotions.
All in all, Let’s Scare Julie is a mess. A great idea poorly executed, with an unfocused story, a fake sense of tension and characters that get tiring remarkably quickly. The set up promises a revelation that never comes, and the film as a whole feels underwhelming, confused and uneventful. Less Let’s Scare Julie, more Let’s Bore The Viewer.