Kitted out with a killer cast of unknowns and a unique(ish) shooting gimmick, Let’s Scare Julie does an awful lot with very little. It’s about as straight-forward as hauntings get: five teenage girls, one house, and a particularly eerie score, with a few extra cast members thrown in for the occasional bump or jump. And with a roving camera that seemingly never (well, very rarely) cuts, there’s something fascinatingly tense and cinematic about just how bare-bones the whole thing is.
Especially when you realise that the Julie in question isn’t actually one of our leads at all, but a mysterious neighbour who’s about to get pranked. It’s a prank that we never actually see, but get the feeling didn’t go down as well as the girls might’ve been expecting. Instead we stay with outsider Emma (Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson) as the fallout turns to terror, and a seemingly normal suburban home gets turned upside down.
And it’s in this perspective-hugging – being forced to stick with one character, in one place – that the one-take gimmick definitely succeeds most. Cutting between Emma and the inciting prank-gone-wrong set-up would’ve almost been too easy, and sunk a lot of the tension before it really had time to settle in.
Instead, we’re housebound, forced to rove like Emma from room-to-room for clues and only dream about the horrors that might be taking place across the street. As a result, there’s a free-flowing, naturalistic element to the way everything plays out, from the conversations to the spookiness, which is rare for the genre but works surprisingly well.
For some though, it’s clear that this will be a huge cop-out of a play from director Jud Cremata; this is very much a horror that invests more in unsettling the mind of the audience than building any actual scares. And even at just 83 minutes, with the bulk of the film mostly following the girls chatting, joking around or wandering breathlessly through the house without much direction, the lack of actual substance means the running time can definitely drag. This one is all about the build, and it shows when Cremata and his team start to run out of dark rooms to slowly creep between.
If you do find yourself swept up in the chilling psychological aspect of it all – and many might find some of the most frightening elements a little too familiar – Let’s Scare Julie really does deliver on an extremely lean budget. The tension flows seamlessly, the chemistry of the cast is second-to-none and on the whole, the director captures the energy of this kind of night very well indeed.
But even for those on board with the no-frills set-up, there’s only so far a film like this can go before it needs some level of pay-off. Blair Witch had the basement, Lake Mungo had the face, but sadly, Let’s Scare Julie has very very little to match; Cremata and his team simply don’t deliver and what once was a powerful build, fizzes out into nothing.
For hardcore genre fans and low-budget filmmakers, this will likely be an oddly useful bible to study, but as film designed for entertainment, there’s not really enough here to add up to a successful horror.