We horror fans are a twisted bunch. Not only do we get our kicks by watching spooky, gory, and often depraved acts on film, but in certain fringe cases, we go so far as to actually pay someone to let us participate in an extreme horror experience. Think of them like the haunted houses you visit around the Halloween season, but in these experiences, the people can touch you. They can capture you. They could, in theory, ruin you. But these experiences are just that–an experience. It isn’t real, and if you’re a hardened genre vet, it might not give you the thrill that you’d hoped for. That was the case for filmmakers Preston DeFrancis and Trysta Bissett. After visiting a handful of these “extreme haunts”, they found themselves wondering what it would take to genuinely frighten them, and the result is their feature film debut, Ruin Me.

You’ll think you have it all figured out… and you’ll be wrong.

Ruin Me primarily follows Alex; a potential candidate for girlfriend of the year that accompanies her boyfriend on one of those aforementioned horror experiences. She’s not a horror fan. She’s simply here for support. She’s also obviously troubled and requires some sort of oral pill in order to stay level-headed. So when the horror experience kicks in and things begin to feel a little more extreme than anticipated, we as viewers are forced to wonder if the events are all part of the show, a figment of her imagination, or as unlikely as it may be… maybe it’s all actually happening. That’s the delicate balance that DeFrancis and Bissett constantly juggle, and the end result is a film that is every bit as entertaining as it is abstruse. You’ll think you have it all figured out… and you’ll be wrong.

… a film by horror fans for horror fans.

After an admittedly shaky introduction scene to our main characters, DeFrancis’ aesthetic finds its home. Any budgetary shortcomings quickly fall by the wayside once the witty and fan-friendly dialog kicks in. Ruin Me is a film by horror fans for horror fans, and that’s proudly on display in the film’s early exchanges. Non-die hards won’t feel alienated, but those that fly their freak flag with pride will be rewarded. That said, as the events begin to unfold and the situation becomes more dire, Bissett and DeFrancis trade fan service and wit for tension and misdirection. This allows the film to transition from something akin to a horror/comedy into a full-blown thrill ride. It’s impressive.

The characters are fun, the mystery is engaging, and the result is both shocking and satisfying. Ruin Me is without a doubt the start of something beautiful with newcomers DeFrancis and Bissett, and I can’t wait to see where they go from here. Recommended for anyone that likes their horror with a side serving of mind games.

Ruin Me screened at the 2017 Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival.