A group of young girls fall prey to an evil presence when a mean-spirited prank on a new neighbor goes awry.
Writer/Director: Jud Cremata
Starring: Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson, Isabel May, Odessa A’zion, Brooke Sorenson, Jessica Sarah Flaum, Dakota Baccelli, Blake Robbins
Let’s Scare Julie (2019) is a handy-cam heavy movie about a teen girl who recently moved in with her similarly teenage cousin. When the cousin and her friends decide to play a nasty prank on a new girl across the street, some don’t come back, and it becomes apparent that a supernatural force is hunting the girls. This is one of those movies that succeeds in a handful of scenes, but the beginning and ending are so overwhelmingly disastrous that it’s impossible to recommend it to even the most masochistic viewers.
What, dear reader, makes the film so dreadful? The main failure is the misguided desire of director and screenwriter Jud Cremata (this being his feature debut) to try and have the cast adlib most of the first half hour. This results in a manic tirade where no one stops talking. Voices overlap, characters clumsily step back and forth across the small bedroom (where the entire first third of the film occurs) and what little action there is involves one character repeatedly groping her friends in a sophomoric parody of teenage adolescence. It is literally unwatchable—this is not an overstatement. Until the group actually leaves the bedroom, the film is a painful, droning scene study that would tire even the most patient senior citizen who sauntered in for a matinee. Does it get better?
Yes, and no. The center of the film revolves around Emma finding and then losing the other characters as she struggles to figure out what terrible thing has happened at the house across the street. These scenes successfully build tension, and evoke some of the best moments from the Paranormal Activity franchise. Unfortunately, this all falls apart with an ending reveal that simply doesn’t make sense. There are numerous threads in the movie—Emma’s relationship with a boy shown over text, her peer-pressure filled relationship with her cousin, Taylor’s father’s admission to killing a child, and numerous more—that turn out to have nothing to do with the plot. There are so many of Chekov’s proverbial guns lying around (including two actual guns) that are never fired, one would think this was a failed attempt at a Twin Peaks reimagining. Unfortunately for the film, it has none of the oddball brilliance of that series.
Despite the horrendous execution of this film, the cast seems competent enough. Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson (A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting 2020) plays the lead, Emma, who is reticent to participate in any pranks and is thus roundly tormented by her cousin Taylor’s (Isabel May, Young Sheldon series 2018) friends. The friends—overbearing Madison (Odessa A’zion, Ladyworld 2018) and the nondescript Jess (Unearth 2020) and Paige (Abducted 2018)—spend the film either talking over each other or saying bland things, and after the painful first half hour barely show up. May’s character Taylor is in even less of the film, and spends most of her screen time whispering to Leigh-Anne Johnson 100% unintelligibly. Blake Robbins (Oz series 2001) plays Taylor’s alcoholic and armed father, and is responsible for one of the film’s good scenes. In it, he corners terrified Emma and monologues about accidentally shooting a small child, channeling the terrifying threat present in alcoholic fathers everywhere. Young Dakota Baccelli plays Emma’s little sister Lilly in her feature debut, and the couple of scenes the two characters share boast excellent sibling chemistry.
Despite the cast’s earnest efforts, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend Let’s Scare Julie to anyone. The rare moments worth reviewing are so buried amidst stretches of painful adlib and tension-deflating confusion that it’s unpleasant viewing, plain and simple. Go and watch Paranormal Activity or Paranormal Activity 3 if you’re in the mood for realism in your scares, and wait to see if Cremata’s next feature is more successful instead of diving into this misguided effort.