1.5 out of 5 stars

Movies about young women menaced by unseen forces in dark houses are hardly novel, and movies about social-media connections not being all they seem are becoming common, too. But Shook, a dull horror thriller redeemed only by some effective visuals, isn’t really either, despite appearances. Underneath, it’s the old, old story about someone who seemingly has it all being brought down a peg (or several blood-spattered pegs) until they realise that what really matters in life are honesty, friendship, truth, simplicity, genuine… sorry, dozed off there. Shook will do that to you.

It starts well enough, introducing principal characters (and noting how many social media followers each has) via a montage at an apparently glamorous fashion event soon revealed to be a photoshoot in a deserted car park. Mere minutes pass before one of these Southern Californian cosmetics influencers is murdered with her own stiletto heel through her throat, which looks extremely promising for civilisation in general if not the film specifically. 

Shook’s attention then turns, however, to another one of these social media queens. Mia (Daisye Tutor) is asked by her sister Nicole (Emily Goss, a study in deliberate dowdiness) to look after Nicole’s dog while she’s out of town. And it doesn’t just need feeding and walkies, but protection from a serial dog-killer. This clearly raises the stakes, as does information that Nicole’s going away to obtain treatment for an incurable debilitating disease, and that the sister’s mother has recently died after her own long illness. Few viewers will be flabbergasted when these background elements turn out to play a role in the big denouement (although, of course, few viewers may be paying enough attention to be flabbergasted by that point anyway).

So off Mia goes to the family home in (horrifyingly) the suburbs. “I just really feel it’s necessary to be selfless during this time,” she gushes online. “The selfless thing” is “very on-brand”, comments one of her friends.

But more than virtue-signalling will be required to survive what’s coming. Inevitably the dog doesn’t stay contentedly curled in its basket, and inevitably strange and threatening things start happening on Mia’s social media. Up to roughly the first twist, at the movie’s halfway point, these are fairly predictable, and beyond that they’re both baffling and predictable. Even so, the biggest mystery of all is why, despite Mia repeatedly asking the home-automation system to turn on the lights, and ‘Diana’ complying, the house remains shrouded in a kind of pre-industrial gloom. Perhaps no illumination technology more potent than the weakest bedside lamp has yet spread to the benighted suburbs?

If Shook has a saving grace at all, it lies in the cinematography (by Richard Wong) and editing (presumably by director Harrington herself, as no editor is credited and she has ample experience in the field). There are nicely suggestive shadows, well-judged if not particularly subtle cuts, and imaginative development of the recent trend toward putting social media content right into the scene rather than confining it to shots of a character’s device.

Often this is limited to text exchanges, but Harrington is more ambitious, sometimes dragging a whole screen’s-worth of messaging or streaming right into the room with Mia so it appears to be physically present. Though not all critics have been convinced, connecting the digital world to the (mostly solo) action in this way well, reinforcing an idea the barriers between “content” and “real life” are crumbling.

There’s also a mildly amusing climactic twist, and a score (again uncredited!) which has the virtues of simplicity, quietness, and long absences. Few of the performances make much impact, though that’s more down to the screenplay than the acting. Tutor does bring some believability to a paper-thin role, and Nicola Posener (as one of Mia’s pals) is so annoying she’s oddly watchable, but Nicole’s comment to her sister that “nothing about you is real” would apply to most of this ensemble.

Despite occasional glimmers of interest, though, Shook is a bad film. It’s not bad because any single element is terrible, as the the production is professional, the acting’s competent, the concept is no worse than many other slasher/home invasion movies. It’s bad because, with the exception of how it looks and the editing, not a single element ever rises above adequate.

If there’s nothing to immediately put us off, there’s also absolutely nothing to make us care what happens next, who lives, who dies, or where the damn dog is. The logistics of the baddie’s implausibly complex plot might make sense on closer examination, but Shook never provides us with the incentive to figure out whether they do. It never engages us enough to make an investment, and without an investment there’s no return.

In short, it’s tedious to follow and hard to like.

USA  | 2021 | 88 MINUTES | 2.35:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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shook (2021)

Cast & Crew

director: Jennifer Harrington.
writers: Jennifer Harrington & Alesia Glidewell.
starring: Daisye Tutor, Emily Goss & Nicola Posener.