A few days ago, I was at The Dollar Tree when I realized I needed a door prop. I asked an employee and they told me they had some in the back. While I was standing there, waiting for them to return, I happened to look around and saw a box full of DVDs. One of them was entitled "Scrawl", and I saw the name of Daisy Ridley on the package. This being the month of Halloween, and the price being right, I bought the DVD.
The box describes the basic plot: two teenagers are working on a horror comic book, with some of the characters inspired by people they know. The comic book starts coming true, and they try to find a way to escape the story they created.
When I started watching it, other aspects of it became apparent to me. It was, for one thing, British, and very British at that. It was also more of a surreal art film than the straight horror I was expecting (although that particular point is undone in the final 20 minutes of the 80 minute movie). It also became quickly apparent that this movie was done on a budget: the only sets are a hotel, cafe and supermarket, as well as the streets of the small English town, and the woods where the final climactic horror scene takes place. The characters relationships are alluded to but not really explained: Simon and Joe are nerds who are writing a comic book, and have strained and sometimes openly hostile relationships with their peers and family. The exact backstory of the characters interactions aren't clear, but we find out that a mysterious girl, Hannah, who is perhaps Death, and is played by a then-unknown Daisy Ridley, is out to bring these simmering animosities into open violence.
The fact that much is unexplained is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it gives an interesting feeling of being dropped in in media res, and makes the story seem that much more surreal. But without any investment in who these characters are, we feel no suspense as they fall into danger. When the first girl, barely introduced, walks up the stairs of the hotel and talks to some mysterious figures, with her eyes turning to pure jet black, it is creepy, but without any context for who she is, it is hard to feel any tension in the scene. And so it is throughout the movie: conflicts are alluded to, and are used as set-ups for the supernatural actions that Hannah/Death puts into play, but they come off as nonsequiturs. The finale of the movie breaks from the surrealistic set-up to go to straight horror: bloody monsters running through the woods. Given the lack of budget for special-effects, it might have been better to stay with suspense, because the costume blood and gore are not very convincing.
This might sound too negative. I found the film, for all its flaws, strangely charming while I was watching it. After finishing it, I found out it was more or less a student film. The actors were professionals, but the film had been designed by film students. Despite the uneven production and grim subject matter, it still feels fun, in an odd way. Especially given by low investment of money and time, I feel it was worthwhile.
The other thing that seems most salient about the movie is how much a post-modern horror plot has now become a standard horror plot. Ever since The Blair Witch Project, which first introduced the idea that the media itself is the threat, it is now a standard horror idea: the most horrifying thing is the stories we tell ourselves, the narratives that we write ourselves into. Which, after the past few years, I agree is an important lesson to learn, but it is now unsurprising to find it as a theme in a horror movie.