The 2020 Sundance Film Festival featured quite a few flicks full of thrills and chills, and one in particular showcased Chicago’s very own Chris Redd: the psychological horror-comedy Scare Me, which was acquired by Shudder, the horror streaming service, just ahead of the festival. Although now a nationally known comedic star appearing on Saturday Night Live, Redd was born just a regular kid in St. Louis, Missouri. He moved to Naperville at the age of eight, but because his family was originally from Mississippi, he always felt that he had a southern upbringing.
Speaking about how this influences his comedic voice, Redd says, “Half of my year would be Black family, southern home-cooked, and then they moved us to the whitest suburb where I had to deal with the racism and these other dynamics and it informed me—I always felt like I had two different journeys. I was awkward in two different settings. I learned to move between two worlds in a really cool way that informs everything that I do now.”
The act of verbally toggling communication methods to travel seamlessly between two worlds is known as code-switching and often misunderstood. Redd says, “I’m not code-switching because I’m hiding myself, I’m code-switching because I don’t want to explain my slang terms or my shorthand.” As Redd got older, he moved into Chicago proper to be closer to his friends. “As I got older and found my voice— yo, my voice is for that person who feels that they are a little bit lost and can make a home out of where they are.”
Josh Ruben, the film’s director, reached out to Redd’s agent and asked if he would like to be a part of Scare Me. Redd read the script and took a look at the storyboard and loved the tone. What struck him most was that the movie was both horror and comedy, but also it had a soundscape that elevated it to the next level. He’d never seen anything like it. “It turned out to be a better experience than I ever even thought it could be, working with two actors I really respected a lot.”
Set in a very creepy cabin decorated with the requisite mounted animal heads, Scare Me follows the story of Fred (Ruben), a struggling writer hoping that a little solitude will jump-start his creativity. He finds himself stuck overnight without electricity with Fanny (Aya Cash), an award-winning writer. Fred’s insecurity kicks off a Mary Shelley-inspired night of telling ghost stories. Redd shows up as a pizza delivery man who gets quickly sucked into their increasingly twisted games to scary and hilarious effect.
Despite the long days that shooting film can bring, Redd says, “I knew I was having fun because it was (shooting) in upstate New York, and I was like, ‘This is where people get murdered’ . . . but it was so much fun that I forgot where I was at, until it was time to go back to the hotel.”
Best known for his role on Saturday Night Live, Redd enjoys both working in front of a live audience and the closed environment of shooting a film. “Working with a live studio audience offers instant gratification, but film is so incredible because you get to really tell a story, and editing plays such a cool role. I had to get used to doing something funny and having to figure out if it was funny for real or not, because people have to hold laughs in [on set], but you can tell.”
Redd developed his taste for scary movies as a kid when his big cousin from Mississippi would turn out the lights and put on scary movies like Leprechaun, Vampire in Brooklyn, and The Shining. He’d also read children’s horror stories like Goosebumps, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and psychological thrillers by James Patterson. Some of his favorites now are The Cabin in the Woods, The Blair Witch Project, and Scream. The last time he was legitimately scared was during Jordan Peele’s haunted house installation, Us, at Universal Studios. “I love going to haunted houses with friends because I never get scared at all but everybody else does . . . but this one girl popped out, and I did not see it coming. Maaaan, she got me bad.”
For Redd, the most rewarding part of making this film was the process of creation. “It was an amazing challenge to go scene from scene 15 pages at a time, hardcore acting, switching up characters, improvising, sticking the story narrative, challenging every part of what we do,” Redd says. “As an actor I feel like I need to do this at least once a year to feel like I’m progressing and sharpening my skills. Everybody should have that experience. So, everyone go to upstate New York, lock yourselves in a cabin, and act your asses off to each other and see what you do.” v