Jennifer Harrington’s feature is a stylish horror with a great premise. It’s problematic opening half is far outweighed by its excellent second. Shook offers a scathing look at the effects of social media on today’s influencer crazed society. A film that has so much potential, but just doesn’t quite hit the bullseye.
Social media influencer Mia (Daisye Tutor) decides to help out her ill sister Nicole (Emily Goss) by looking after her dog at her family home while she goes for medical trials out of town. This annoys her friends and boyfriend who wanted her to attend a live stream to boost their own numbers. As Mia settles in for the night with Cecil she starts to get strange messages and phone calls from a potential dog serial killer. Is he coming for Cecil or Mia?
Social media is well on its way to being used as a prominent source for horror and genre films for the next couple of decades and Shook utilises the draw and drawback of wanting to be an influencer. Mia’s friends only want her for her large follower count, so they can piggyback off of it. The fame and fake it till you make it nature of social media is always going to be up for derision and for the most part Shook handles itself well to very well in that regard. Horrors based on social media or using social media are on the rise, from the bad, to the type that work far too well, such as Ethan Evans Time Out which was filmed a for Insta Stories, Reels or whatever in mind (check it out here).
Shook has a great little opening that shows the vapid nature of social media in it’s red carpet scene. It is a lovely touch and shows two writers who very much have their finger on the pulse. Yet, when we get to the next 30 minutes the film rushes itself far too much. With the viewer being sped through the relationship of Nicole and Mia and the family history that has been going on with their mother. There should be more time left there for us to feel the connection or lack of connection between the two sisters. Then when we build on that when Nicole is used in the first round of games, we can feel more towards it.
This also causes us not to care too much for any of Mia’s ignorant and fame hungry friends when they are put into danger. The audience should be seeing how despite their obvious flaws. How Mia still cares for them, yet almost at every opportunity Mia is left sighing or being annoyed at them before they get into danger. Other than the mental torment, there is little reason to care for them. In fact we care more for little Chico than we do her friends as he is the one true innocent part in all of this.
This first half almost brings the entire film off the tracks. But with some great work in the second half the film opens itself up and becomes more honest. Becoming the film it should have been which is a great relief. Once the dramatic thriller aspect comes into the film it improves immeasurably. In truth almost becoming a completely different piece.
This will be as spoiler free as possible as the twists that do happen during this lean runtime are pleasantly surprising and worth it for the audience that will watch Shook. Thankfully the film does turn from a standard cat and mouse game where the protagonist has to complete tasks to keep her friends alive into something more and it is credit to the film that it helps improve it. There are some quite compelling moments of drama rooted in here that will catch you in the emotions more than you would think.
That could be due to personal reasons, anyone who has encountered an ailing parent and having to help with their care will attest to the drain that is felt. More so if a close family member doesn’t help out as much as they should. These moments of family drama and grief hit home very well and that is down to solid and realistic writing from Jennifer Harrington and Alesia Glidewell. You feel for these characters in those moments and as mentioned. It takes you by surprise that you are having these feelings during what looked from the outside as a standard horror flick.
What works very well with Shook is the use of seeing what Mia see’s on her screen. By projecting it to the nearest wall, we don’t have the standard bubbles or pop ups that appear that take you out of the film a tad. This projection actually allows for a more natural way of viewing the videos or messages. Simple use of this is a scene where Mia has to do something to herself and the projection of the monitor’s messages countdown onto her face as she panics her way through the task. It is a very easy trick that helps elevate the film.
This is what frustrates with Shook. There is so much that works, the style of the film from director Jennifer Harrington is at a top level, there are small touches that work gangbusters, the last half is very well done. Yet, this remains a film that struggles to know what it wants to be and completely wastes a large portion of its first half to just bring in the scares. It is almost as if there wasn’t confidence in the film detailing how one can get lost within their social media and the effect it causes onto others. Or even the idea that some people veer towards creating a character on those platforms to escape the reality of what is happening. Shook touches on so many great ideas, yet never fully stamps its foot down to claim what should be its own.
Perfect casting was put in here for Shook with Emily Goss’ Nicole and Daisye Tutor as Mia. They work their socks off during the film as sisters battling grieving in separate ways over the loss of the mother and the incoming pain of Nicole’s diagnosis. These are not simple characters to portray and both work very well to present them onscreen in a believable and emotional way.
Shook ends up being a film that could have offered its audience so much more, but a laggy first half that scuppers it. However, there is still a lot to enjoy in this film that discusses the influence and effects of social media. Not on the influencer, but on the surrounding circle as well. A stylish horror that is worth watching for the second half alone.
Shook will premiere and debut exclusively to Shudder on February 18th in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. As well as via the Shudder offering within the AMC+ bundle where available.
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