Typically, I don’t mind low budget films. I can tolerate mediocre visual effects, sub-par camera work, and shoddy acting. I can even stomach a movie switching from film to video after the first five minutes. What I cannot forgive is when a film skimps on the writing. Are You Scared does exactly that.
The concept had potential, revolving around a reality TV show that was based on conquering fear; but rather than having to simply eat live worms, the contestants have to face more gruesome fears, like being awake during surgery. The consequence for not successfully facing your fear, however, is death. This could have been a wonderful commentary on reality TV and the commodification of people. This could have been a subtle screed about the selling of life for entertainment. Instead, it’s a rip-off of Saw, complete with modulated voice. Oh yes, there will be an intellectual property lawsuit.
Where Saw strove for the lofty heights of other smart-but-deranged-punishment-killer thrillers like Se7en, Are You Scared strives for idiocy. The movie opens with a barefoot girl, hands chained behind her back, and a metal collar around her neck that electrocutes her painfully. To complete her task, she must push two buttons, in order, within one minute. Aside from not being shocked to death, the girl’s reward will be a modeling contract. One of the buttons is at the bottom of a fishtank full of clear fluid that looks like water. When the girl dunks her head into the tank to push the second button, she finds the liquid is actually a very powerful acid that melts her face off! I give the movie points for being clever, but there’s no context to this scene, making it seem needlessly overblown. Is the girl a stuck-up bitch, lording over her not-as-pretty friends with her exceptional beauty? Is the killer trying to make a point about how investing too much time in self-image will kill you? Who knows? All we see is a poor, average-looking, nice girl getting her face destroyed. Furthermore, there was no way she could have survived her task. If the killer wanted her dead, he could have just shocked her to death or choked her while she was no doubt asleep while he placed her in restraints. It just seems like a lot of work for the same result.
The six other “contestants” in the main plot don’t fair much better and their tasks are equally inane. One contestant, who’s afraid of the dark, must traverse a room in complete darkness. The catch is that the room is trapped with tripwires hooked up to shotguns. What? Shouldn’t that task be for the person who is afraid of getting shot in the face? Another contestant, who has a fear of germs, has her hands restrained in front of her by her own intestines. That’s right. Her intestines have been pulled out of her abdomen and looped around her wrists and hands. In order to free her arms so that she can reach a cellphone, the girl must allow nearby rats to eat through her guts. Fortunately, not all of the tasks are laughable. One task pits brother and sister against each other as two giant drills come boring after both siblings’ skulls as they sit restrained in chairs. Each sibling can start their own drill, which stops the drill attacking the other sibling. The task becomes a test of sacrifice: which sibling is willing to die for the other?
After a certain point, you will resign yourself to the ludicrous plot and accept that the movie is just a string of masochistic exercises that didn’t make the cut for the Saw movies. Unfortunately, the writer couldn’t leave well enough alone and kept trying to elevate the film. Late in the story, the protagonist asks the killer why the other contestants were brought to the “show” when the protagonist was the real target. “To teach them a lesson,” the killer replies, “a merciful death is better than a life of pain.” After having seen this movie, I understand what he’s talking about.