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Are You Scared?

Directed by Andy Hurst

Written by Ellis Walker

Starring Alethea Kutschner, Carlee Avers, Erin Consalvi, Brent Fidler

Produced by Michael Feifer

Not Rated

79 minutes

***

Are you scared by a movie that takes the worst parts of our modern culture and piles them fast and deep in a fashion that makes you lament for the whole of civilization? If you can answer yes, then “Are You Scared?” is your movie of choice.

Destroying modern culture this week is six kids in the midst of a reality show that turns out to be entirely too real for anyone’s good—with lethal consequences. The first minute is going to prove almost jaw-droppingly familiar. A disembodied voice watching from nowhere explains the terms of a game to a frightened participant with a reward on the line, and a price to be paid for failure. The game is called “Are You Scared?” and somehow, someone forgot to tell the folks involved that—son of a bitch, somehow we’re in a SAW KNOCKOFF!!

I can’t believe it. It’s finally, finally crapped out to this. We’ve finally reached the point where direct to video is just another word for “who can rip off what the fastest?”

Frankly, I confess to some surprise. The cynic in me has been wondering for the last two years, give or take, how long it was going to take for some enterprising DTV soul to rip off “Saw”. And to their credit, they had restraint enough to wait until “Saw III” was approaching its theatrical release (we ARE within striking distance, folks…) before they launched off on the low-budget, poorly plotted and scaled-down movie of one of the most raw, brutish and ultimately effective splatter flicks of the twenty-first century.

And let’s face it, that’s what we’ve got here. There are no funky gadgets here. No triumphs of cobbled-together murder engineering. No incredible, vicious Rube Goldberg-esque killing machines (I still remember that revolver hooked to the peephole from “Saw II” with something like respect). However, there are some interesting traps—check out the twins on the drill press game about the half-hour mark. Most of the traps here will be much more industrial in nature. Where “Saw” seemed to be mostly to be fever-dreams cobbled together by a highly intelligent amateur using whatever bits and pieces he could find and holding his festivities in former crack houses, “Are You Scared?” speaks to a much more deep-pockets killer who can order industrial equipment and use an abandoned factory for his abattoir.

Some of us out there will say, well, welcome to the modern reality show era. Welcome to the era when hot, desperate women will throw themselves at a construction worker where they think a million dollar price tag is involved, or even less understandably, Flavor Flav. Welcome to an era where even my big fat fiance can get a twenty-share and even cartoons can get their own “Big Brother” style chicanery. Though in all honesty, the concept of vicious reality show has long since been done. “$la$her$” is an apt comparison, and surely we all remember the great Schwarzeneggerian opus that was “The Running Man.” What? There was OPERA involved, for crying out loud. Basically, all “Are You Scared?” has managed to accomplish is taking a concept that isn’t exactly new and merge it with one of the newest splatter franchises on the block. The result is surprisingly palatable, even if it’s familiar.

Welcome to the cinematic equivalent of the Reese’s peanut butter cup.

And yet…this is interesting. Is this supposed to be an actual reality show? Are these people applying for a show they’ve been watching Thursdays at nine? And has no one noticed that the participants don’t seem to be coming back near as often as they go in? The cops are chasing rapidly after the guy behind it—just like in “Saw”—and yet all the participants seem convinced beyond all reason that they’re there to be in a reality show, until they start witnessing people dying. I’m willing to express some begrudging respect for the first “Saw” knockoff, mostly because it is in fact the first of its kind, and was willing to intermingle the basic “Saw” concept with a reality show to give it that extra touch of originality. But, also, because it at least manages to do the job without being quite so sanctimonious as the “If you’re not willing to risk death to live, you’re not worthy of living” message that “Saw” bludgeons you with hundreds of times. And yet, we’re still looking at a movie that’s packed to the walls and ceilings with what amounts to pointless brutality, that’s not so much scary as it is sickening.

The ending is a pretty big surprise. Seriously. It elevates my respect for this movie by at least a couple inches.

The special features include English and Spanish subtitles, and trailers for “Hard Candy,” “See No Evil,” “An American Haunting,” “Stephen King’s Desperation,” “Dark Fields,” and “The Feeding.”

All in all, “Are You Scared?” proves to be a mixed bag of entertainment options, wavering from the interesting premise to the pointless killing spree to the big surprise. To answer the movie’s self-styled question, yes, I’m scared…and at the same time, I’m surprised. Too much mindless brutality for my liking…but oh, what they did with it.

Steve Anderson is a film critic who collects action figures so he can dress them up as his favorite horror villains. He lives somewhere in the United States.


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