Director Jennifer Harrington’s Shook is a satirical takedown of social media celebrities that remains a guilty pleasure from start to finish.
Shook follows Mia (Daisye Tutor), a makeup product influencer who has devoted her entire life to attracting more followers and surrounded herself with similar-minded people. Mia leaves her personal life on the backburner, much to the dismay of her sister, Nicole (Emily Goss), who solely looked after their mother before she died. Nicole suffers from a fictional condition called Livingston’s Disease, from which her brain erodes day-by-day.
During a fake red carpet photo shoot, fellow social media hotshot Genelle (Genelle Seldon) is brutally murdered with her own stiletto. To help her own image and pay tribute to Genelle’s memory, Mia skips a livestream with her friends to look after Nicole’s dog, Chico, while Nicole’s out of town. Mia is a self-centered jerk, but her pals (portrayed by Nicola Posener, Stephanie Simbari, and Octavius J. Johnson) are even worse. They urge her to leave Chico unsupervised and join them as they get wasted for their legions of fans. As Mia dog-sits, she’s terrorized by a mysterious caller forcing her to participate in trials where her life, and the lives of those she cares about (Chico included), are put in danger.
What transpires is a tongue-in-cheek thrill ride with over-the-top gore and plot twists galore. I can’t say, though, that Shook is an objectively well-made film. It frequently comes across as juvenile and half-baked—relying on a suspension of disbelief that I can’t shake off. Harrington’s film is unabashedly in-your-face, conveying its themes of greed, jealousy, and betrayal in a manner lacking nuance.
Mia is a frustrating presence from the get-go. Her entire reality has been enveloped by social media, and her humanity is slipping away to the virtual world. Fittingly, her immediate survival depends on communicating via smartphone, which becomes her lifeline as events unfold within Nicole’s house. I appreciate her redemption arc over the course of the film, but the script too often relegates her backstory to rushed exposition-dumps that leave little emotional impact. At least Tutor gives a fine performance, making the most of her dialogue. She’s often shown in a confused, horrified state—befitting the story’s revelations down the road.
In a surprisingly inspired decision, Shook brings audiences into Mia’s headspace by visualizing her mediated communication with her friends and the caller. Texts are plastered on the walls surrounding her while sinister voices whisper in her ears, illustrating her paranoia and dread. While this cinematic choice never develops into anything beyond a gimmick, it’s still clever enough, and alludes to a potential greatness that the film doesn’t quite achieve. Generally, on the other hand, Harrington takes a cinematic approach that adequately builds suspense, but sometimes makes a mockery of itself—featuring sound effects seemingly ripped straight from iMovie.
As the night progresses, the script’s cruel humor wears thin, and plot twist after nonsensical plot twist ensues, along with the graphic violence one expects from a Shudder Original. Indeed, any fear that Shook previously established is replaced by hilarity and feelings of amused befuddlement. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that Harrington’s film is about as subtle as, well, a stiletto to the neck. Its depiction of mental illness is also quite off-putting, and the finale lacks catharsis.
Shook might satisfy viewers looking for a bonkers genre exercise with a smidgen of intelligence. Like doomscrolling on Twitter, however, you might feel a bit empty when it’s all over.
Shook releases on Shudder on 18 February.
Words by Alex McPherson
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