Surprising as it may seem, social media personalities aren’t always who they present themselves to be. Look at me, for example. I may seem like a confident and classy film reviewer, but as I write this I’m in sweatpants eating Goldfish crackers and hoping nobody sees me. I don’t have anywhere near the clout of the characters in the Shudder Original Shook, though, and it’s genuinely exciting to see a story about social media influencers cut so deep into the core of what they go through off-camera. This movie is a tense, edge-of-your-seat drama-thriller digging into what happens when your online life and private life are kept separate, and it’s absolutely worth your time.
Written and directed by Jennifer Harrington (Housekeeping) and based on a story by Alesia Glidewell, Shook (formerly known as IRL) follows one night in the life of Mia, a conflicted makeup vlogger whose mother has just passed away from a genetic condition. As Mia passes up a livestream night with her friends and partner to take care of her sister’s dog, she starts receiving mysterious texts and calls giving her orders and threatening her loved ones if she doesn’t comply. As the night goes on and Mia plays painful games with her tormentor, she starts to realize the people behind it all may be closer to her than she ever suspected, especially considering how much they seem to know about the death of her mother.
The first scene of this movie has little to do with the rest, exposing a supposed red carpet photoshoot as a no-budget publicity stunt in some back alley in Los Angeles, then killing off one of the influencers there as she goes to clean herself up in the bathroom. It’s a setup that gets the audience to expect something a bit silly and over-the-top, but that’s not quite what Harrington delivers with Shook. Instead of goofy social media satire, the film goes for the throat as it plays out, giving Mia (played by Daisye Tutor) a night of home invasion terror that she hardly ever comes face-to-face with.
That’s the brilliance of this story, in this reviewer’s humble opinion. Mia’s friends are apparently in trouble thanks to a mysterious creeper across the street, and she never comes face-to-face with the danger herself, let alone her friends. Shook is full of stark images of Mia on the couch in her sister’s living room, staring horrified at her laptop as a video message showing her friends being tormented plays out. Harrington’s decision to forgo awkward super-imposed pictures of texts and video messages in favor of projecting them directly on the wall next to Tutor is a simple yet brilliant move; it expands the world around her while making her seem even more alone in her house. Her friends also appear next to her whispering their texts in her ear, giving us more and more of a sense that Mia’s grip on reality might not be entirely there.
There’s a moment halfway through the film where everything appears to be revealed. Daisye Tutor embodies someone utterly broken, reduced to tears and rage as she fully processes everything she’s been through, everything she’s just learned about her friends and sister, and the identity of her tormentor on the other end of the phone. It’s almost too easy of an explanation, and Harrington seems to know this because it’s not long before things start to go totally off the rails once again. I’d call it a moment to breathe if it didn’t hit so hard. It’s such an utterly devastating piece of acting and direction, and proof that Harrington and Tutor need to work together a lot more in the future; the way they play off each other—the way Tutor carries the writing and Harrington complements her acting with her directing style—is phenomenal. From here on, Mia stops caring about her image and starts going above and beyond into painful extremes to try to save her friends and sister. Her character arc plays out beautifully, and even though the story finishes with an open-ended almost-cliffhanger, comparing the Mia from the beginning of the film to the Mia from the end is like night and day.
That’s not to say the rest of the cast doesn’t do an excellent job, of course. The movie may be Mia’s story, and Daisye Tutor falls into the character like it was exactly who she was born to play, but Mia’s Daisye Tutor isn’t the only talented one in the cast, however—Mia’s friends and family are rounded out through text and video by an ensemble of actors who show off the best and worst parts of social media. Nicola Posener is completely insufferable (in a good way) as Mia’s best friend Lani, going from fun to watch to impossible to deal with as the horrible night goes on. Mia’s boyfriend Santi is given majorly suspicious energy by Octavius J. Johnson as he openly flirts with Lani on a livestream, and Stephanie Simbari portrays their innocent acquaintance Jade with the most genuine fear in the entire cast as her life is threatened. The eeeeevil voice on the other end of Mia’s phone, Kellan, belongs to Grant Rosenmeyer, infusing his faceless performance with playful menace and horrifying malice. And then there’s Emily Goss as Mia’s older sister, Nicole, barely containing her resentment at Mia’s apparent desire to put her career ahead of her family. The fear that her mother’s genetic condition is affecting her as well intertwines with her anger at Mia, and as the story comes to a close, it bursts forth in genuinely gripping passages between them.
Shook has a couple of moments that may not sit right with some viewers—there’s a prominent plot point involving rather graphic photos of dead dogs, for example—but overall, it’s a fantastic exercise in tension. Jennifer Harrington and Daisye Tutor are talents worth paying attention to in the future, heading up one of Shudder’s most entertaining original films in a minute. Check it out on February 18th, like, comment, and subscribe.