Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Alethea Kutscher, Erin Consalvi, Carlee Avers, Kariem Marbury, Soren Bowie
Directed by Andy Hurst
Distributed by Lionsgate
SAW FOR DUMMIES
That’s what the title of this film should have been. And the tagline:
“Oh yes, there will be rip-offs.”
Are You Scared? opens in a grungy-looking interior with a young woman whose hands are chained behind her back and has an electrified shock collar around her neck. An ominous voice tells her that she has to push two buttons within sixty seconds or suffer dire consequences. To push the first button she has to walk barefoot over broken glass and push it with her chin. The second button is at the bottom of a fish tank, requiring her to dunk her head in the water to push the button, again with her chin. Of course, there’s quite an unpleasant catch – that’s not water. The whole time the ominous voice is egging her on and giving her a second-by-second countdown. Does any of this sound familiar?
We then meet a police detective that’s been in pursuit of this killer for two years. He’s joined by a female FBI profiler who will go on to tell him about how the killer is methodical in his planning, ruthless in his execution, and repeatedly uses the line, “The game’s started again.” She also goes on about how this methodical madman is actually trying to teach his victims a lesson about how “a merciful death is better than a life of pain,” a line that will be repeated numerous times throughout the film, even by the killer himself.
I mean wow, just wow. This is such a shameless knock-off of Saw I’m literally shocked to know that it wasn’t produced by The Asylum. Nope. Are You Scared? is being released through Lionsgate. You have to admire a company willing to cash in on one of its most financially successful big screen horror franchises by putting out a DVD movie that is essentially a poor man’s wannabe version of that very franchise.
In Saw the killer was known as Jigsaw. I honestly do not recall what, if anything, the killer in Are You Scared? was known as so I’m just going to refer to the character for the remainder of this review as Word Jumble because his words were meaningless and his motivations quite jumbled.
Six teenagers now awaken in an abandoned, dilapidated factory with no memory as to how they got there. The shameless copycatting just doesn’t let up. Within 10 minutes it has gone from shamelessly ripping off Saw to ripping off Saw 2.
There is a bit of a deviation from the ripping off of the Saw formula. Word Jumble uses the ruse of a fake reality game show called “Are You Scared?”–hence, the film’s title. All of the potential victims had applied to appear on this phony reality show and upon waking up in some rundown hellhole are led to believe they’re competing at that very moment on live television for cash and prizes by facing their worst fears. For example, the girl in the opening sequence was led to believe she’d win a modeling contract if she were to complete the task. Of course, there was no possible way of getting out of the trap alive so there’s another deviation from the Saw formula.
There’s another serious deviation from the Saw formula. Unlike Saw, the potential victims in Are You Scared? are so far beyond the realm of stupid they border on mental retardation. The Saw victims weren’t too bright but still weren’t as far gone as these dolts. They pretty much lap up the line from the scary voice guy (whose scary disguised voice sounds almost exactly like Jigsaw’s) telling them they’ve been selected to compete on this live reality show. Despite claims that they never heard back after applying, never actually signed any sort of consent forms, and then there’s that little matter of being drugged and kidnapped, their skepticism is mostly muted. But then why should the characters be allowed to be smarter than the movie itself?
Case in point: Jason, the token Black guy who wastes little time buying into the premise and trash talking about how he’s going to win even though he woke up with no idea how he go there and with a bloody bandage under his shirt from where he’d been cut. Jason is coerced into a then sealed room where he’s told he has to defuse a bomb in x amount of time or go boom. This concept is the first thing to alert him that all in not right with this reality show. Unable to find the bomb, he begins panicking. Then he sees an x-ray on the wall and realizes it’s of him. He lifts up his shirt and reveals a big bloody bandage barely covering a large, very nasty looking and very fresh surgical scar where the explosive device has been inserted into his body cavity. This is what he described as “being cut”? This guy has been bouncing off the wall with excitement over how he’s on TV, bragging about how he’s going to win, and moving around with no visible discomfort from having a fresh foot-long incision in his abdomen or from walking around with a hockey puck-sized explosive in his body cavity. Word Jumble offers him the use of nitrous oxide to ease the pain before cutting himself open to remove the bomb, but why would he need it if he wasn’t feeling any before?
Look, suspension of disbelief is a two-way street. For crying out loud, Word Jumble didn’t put a “Kick Me” sign on the guy’s back. He sliced the guy’s abdomen open and surgically inserted a good-sized explosive device. A movie has got to play by some rules. Are You Scared? cheats every chance it gets.
The film keeps cutting back to the police detective and FBI profiler on Word Jumble’s trail. Both are utterly worthless characters. The highlight of their investigation is when they trace a piece of equipment used in one of the traps to a shop whose clerk cannot think of anything particularly out of the ordinary about the person that came in to purchase power drills mounted sideways on a track system. This clerk didn’t find anything especially out of the ordinary about his request and, it seems, didn’t even notice that half the guy’s face was melted off either.
Whatever one may think of the Saw films, Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw was at least an interesting character with intriguing motivations for why he did what he did. Word Jumble is a boring Jigsaw wannabe with a burnt face and poorly thought out motivations. Those motivations do become clearer with a revelation towards the end, but that revelation really only added to my annoyance with the gibberish nature of the script.
One of the big complaints about the Saw films was over how was Jigsaw able to put together and pull off such ridiculously complex Rube Goldberg deathtraps. The complaint registers doubly so here. Word Jumble’s traps are even cheaper and hokier than Jigsaw’s. One involves a character with their own intestines hanging out of their body having to complete a task before they bleed to death. I never really understood what the point of this task was. Then again, they were no-win situations so it didn’t really matter. Heck, Word Jumble even leaves his perch to kill a character or two manually.
Once the characters figure out what’s really going on after witnessing the fate of the game’s second victim, the whole reality show angle is totally scuttled, the movie completely falls apart, and the film goes from being a perfectly watchable, albeit positively moronic Saw rip-off to a drabber, run-of-the-mill, moronic horror flick. While gorehounds might be satisfied with the carnage on display, Are You Scared? never succeeds at generating any of the suspense or repulsion that the Saw films strived for. It’s impossible to watch this movie without the constant feeling that you’re watched what I described at the beginning as “Saw for Dummies”, a rip-off with logic gaps that often display sheer contempt for the audience.
Look no further than the big twist ending (which all films like this are required to have whether they need one or not). It’s positively insulting in its contempt for the audience’s intelligence. I’m talking insulting on the level of the end of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer‘s climax. Yeah, it’s that insulting.
And to answer the film’s title question; no, I was not scared.
2 out of 5
1/2 out of 5
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