The depiction of social media in cinema has only really spanned the last ten or so years — The Social Network and documentary Catfish arguably being cornerstones that started the trend — with most genres taking a stab at picking apart the gargantuan influence of the social side of the web: influencers, catfishing, stalkers, maintaining a following or surveillance technology. Within the horror genre, the format that these films have taken has often mixed screen-based, found footage, cross-platform and traditional narrative styles, the majority of entries adding their own unique and current stamp on the wider conversation surrounding social media use.
Jennifer Harrington’s latest film Shook, which premiered on Shudder, aims to tackle the absurdity of the social media influencer and the lengths one might go to to maintain a following. The pandemic has recently helped in the decline of influencers’ status after many claimed themselves to be key workers, jetting off to private islands and Dubai while we all continue to struggle at home.
Shook‘s central influencer Mia (Daisye Tutor) does not have such privileges as private island getaways yet, she’s a low-level make-up influencer with a growing following; her friends are parasitic leeches also clawing at her success and popularity in order to cultivate their own followings. The film’s characters are cloaked in false exteriors and imagined glamour, a concept perfectly summarised in the film’s opening scene. An abandoned-looking warehouse is the scene for an influencer red-carpet event, models like the carpet and pose for photos, the glamour of the scene conflicting with the decrepit walls and exposed pipe work in the wider shot. When a group of the young women head into the toilets, one is targeted and killed by an unknown assailant, who rams a stiletto heel firmly through the influencer’s jaw. This moment felt very much like the broken leg at the beach reveal in It Follows, a sensational, visually endearing and borderline camp moment that signifies a killer start to what should be a wild ride. In the case of Shook, its opening scene sets a precedent that is never met again.
Mia knew the now-deceased influencer and as an act of goodwill and to maintain her ‘nice girl’ brand decides she won’t livestream on the night of the tragic announcement, instead she is going to be completely selfless and look after her sister Nicole’s (Emily Goss) dog, Chico. But to make matters worse, there’s a dog murderer on the loose! Cue a slurry of incredibly violent and potentially triggering scenes of dead dogs and you’ve got yourself an absolutely pointless (attempt to be distracting) subplot.
So, Mia has sacked off her friends and boyfriend to hang out with this dog in a house that has about 10% of the personality of an Ikea catalogue spread, creeping around in the dark shitting herself about a dog murderer. Her friends keep in contact with her through a variety of different apps, all of which are heavy-handedly splattered across the screen in varying formats: on-screen texts, projections, and blurred scenarios playing out as if the characters were in the room — this one particularly is the most effective and original way of communicating the all-consuming nature of Mia’s social app addiction.
When Chico suddenly vanishes, a mysterious caller rings to give cryptic information about his whereabouts, Mia’s sister and her late mother. The caller places Mia into a game of cat and mouse that infiltrates her online life, friendships and real-life situation. The film juggles between saving Chico, saving her terrible friends and saving her sister. It is essentially a drawn out version of the ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’ opening scene from Scream but with absolutely none of the charm or the wit, Harrington piles on twist after twist to this convoluted plot in attempts to create sympathy for a lead character that is entirely unlikable; although Tutor tries her best to work with communicating through bleary-eyed close-ups and dimly lit corridors. In addition, the film suffers from a huge case of ‘why don’t you just turn the big light on?’ that dulls any visual style this slasher could have possessed, and an electronic score that feels like a Scary Movie spoof.
The contemporary relevance that Harrington and fellow screenwriter Alesia Glidewell’s set-up might possess — and the anger that might be fuelled while watching it due to current events — is sadly dulled. The story takes a stab at too many different plot elements and twists, all of which seem derivative given the success of other social media based horrors such as Host, Unfriended, The Den Don’t Hang Up and Cam. Every single reveal, beat and message in this film is pulled from somewhere else — and for such a new social topic for horror to chew on, we shouldn’t be at the point of regurgitation just yet.
Shook is available to stream exclusively on Shudder now
by Chloe Leeson
Chloë (she/her) is the founder of SQ. She is a costume designer and trainee teacher living in the North East of England. She thrives watching 90s Harmony Korine Letterman interviews and bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. Find her on Twitter @sqchloe and on Letterboxd here.