Scare Campaign is a sinister Australian indie I wholeheartedly enjoyed, but it’s one I wanted to LOVE. The concept bottles tension between hollow mainstream horror and story-centric indie fare, while also satirizing society’s desensitized consumption of entertainment. Rhetoric about “new media” is squeezed between killer death-punches, while YouTube-brand jokesters suffer gory fates much to the enjoyment of past prank victims.
Filmmakers Cameron and Colin Cairnes blend Grave Encounters with the metaness of Fear Inc., conjuring funhouse sadism inside a vicious playground of horrors. It’s funny, ferocious and sharp as daggers, even though the story feels about three/fourths complete. This bite-sized treat could have been a hunk of king-sized gluttony, but with so few horror options this Halloween, you’re still in good hands!
Prank shows like Candid Camera have long preyed on the unexpected, much like Australia’s Scare Campaign. For five seasons, Marcus (Ian Medows) and his team scared “stooges” senseless on national television, but studio brass think they’ve lost their edge. The show is given an ultimatum – take Season 5’s finale somewhere fiercer, or be canceled forever.
Marcus bites, and sets out for Glendale Mental Asylum with his crew of actors, producers and crew members. Lead actress Emma (Meegan Warner) meets her mark, an ex-employee (Rohan, played by Josh Quong Tart) whose dark connection to Glendale makes his experience more personal. Emma begins to worry that Marcus staged the wrong lunatic, but a detached groundskeeper ends up being the least of everyone’s production worries…
Real evil belongs to an underground cult known as The Masked Freaks, these real-life murderers who kill imitators based on crowd-funded clicks. Shows like Scare Campaign work in fantasy, bringing a cinematic experience to television-safe shocks. The Masked Freaks wear guerilla-stealth costumes (clowns, animals, monsters), and wield video cameras modified with actual torture tools (claws that jut out, chainsaw mounts, a wire noose) like some doomsday film club. Marcus gets creative by toying with his own crew at first, because no one wants to lose their job – but then the freaks come out to play. Jokey, behind-the-scenes trickery immediately switches to frantic, game-changing dread with one stab of a hunting knife. We’re talking raw, reckless villains who mirror social desires, because being evil pays.
Dialogue between Marcus and the lead Freak debate investment over emotionless kills, an argument those against Saw-like torture porns have used multiple times. According to Marcus, “If you want to scare, you make them care!” Words from a showrunner losing numbers by the episode, while internet viewers line the Freak’s pockets with cash in favor of what’s dubbed “The New Entertainment” – much like how YouTube stars are able to solicit millions doing things their own way.
Deprivation is favored over scripted jolts, suggesting that the more “extreme” things get, the less we care about weaker, softer material. People are hungry for the real thing, and psychos can profit off bloodlust almost like corporate backing. Far-fetched? I hope so, but one can’t deny the moral corrosion of humanity. How better to exploit such sin than through horror?
Coming off 100 Bloody Acres, the Cairnes brothers’ devotion to practical effects sufficiently slices and dices with dismembering vigor. The first kill from a Masked Freak not only 180s the tone of Scare Campaign, but stings like a shot of adrenaline to the heart. Bodies are desecrated in the name of “new entertainment,” while heads are halved and chainsaw cameras give perfect POV shots of misty carnage. Chills are more of an implicated sense – that demented murderers can operate freely – but gore certainly highlights the putrid nastiness a charismatic bunch of television workers must face. Conventions are strengthened through bonded performances and cadaver cutting, even if you’re left feeling more jovial than chilled to the core.
Alas, just when Scare Campaign draws you in with wrought intrigue, credits roll and it’s all over. The Cairnes brothers never attempt to fool you – thanks for not pulling a Fear Inc. – but right as more meaningful gene perceptions are teased, the stage curtain is dropped like a heavy wall. Preachy genre subversions become nothing but suggested ideas, and intelligent social horrors are overshadowed by simple, streamlined fun. There’s nothing WRONG with Cameron and Colin’s theme-park-ride pacing, but audiences are left hanging on the cusp of something great via an easy, obvious ending. It’s never frustrating, nor worthless, just so close to transcending “goodness” into greatness.
In other words, check this down-under prankster perversion out for some wicked Halloween chills. ‘Tis the season for no mercy and cut-throat mayhem, both of which Scare Campaign deliciously delivers. Its no scare-a-minute James Wan ghost story, but works as a smarter fill-in for Saw‘s empty Halloween slot. Tight, compact and brimming with enthusiasm, Australia has another under-the-radar winner for horror fans to tear into. Enjoy this one with your fun-loving friends, and let these Cairnes boys welcome you to their live-streaming nightmare.
Scare Campaign is more fun than it is scary, but works wonders with practical effects for the midnight crowd.