I never grew up reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, I was more of a Goosebumps kid. Once I saw a movie in the making with Guillermo Del Toro as one of the writers and producers, I thought to take a dive into what every middle school horror fan talked about. A few stumbles here and there, yet this twist on Alvin Schwartz’s collection of short stories has enough for an entertaining family friendly-ish horror flick.
Like all small towns in America, this one happens to have a myth that comes true on Halloween. Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush), and Chuck (Austin Zajur) go out to get payback on Tommy (Austin Abrams), a local bully. In the midst of flaming poop revenge, the three friends along with a newfound ally Ramon (Michael Garza) come to hang out at an abandoned house, that has a local legend involving a dysfunctional family, death, and a girl who told scary stories. Once taking the book from its home, the stories start to write themselves and unleash hell…for a fairly kid-friendly scary movie.
The three main kids have great chemistry that makes them feel like real friends, contributed by their impressive performances. I immediately identify them as I have known people like Stella, Auggie, and sadly annoying like Chuck.
Romon coming into their friend group felt forced, especially with Colletti’s character Stella. The two actors had a bond that showed well on screen, but the introduction to the friendship was off-putting.
To give some levity since this is based on books for children, humor in the first act was an easy way to get into the world. Tension and horror were balanced against some funny moments initially, then crumbled as the weight of the world came crashing down on these kids. The development of the tone was organic with an initially sharp turn.
Too many tropes were nailed into the narrative. Of course, people split up, generic music creeps in before a cheap jump scare, and the kids defeat the evil spirits with an eye-roller of an idea. When intensity built with an eerie atmosphere then that is when the scariness gets some justice.
The creature designs are both faithful and chilling to see moving on the big screen. One or two of the stories coming alive had some unrealistic CGI that did not look properly rendered fully. The use of make-up and costumes knocks it out of the park, which is no surprise.
A PG-13 rating was understandable, but at times hurt my pleasure. When the stories had violent demises for characters, it felt a bit underdone to satisfy the guidelines to avoid getting stamped with an R. Thankfully only a moment or two felt lackluster, the rest was creatively worked out. Disturbing and disgusting works best, but those elements did not get enough love that was needed.
André Øvredal did quite a job well done directing his first major release, which was certainly helped by Del Toro producing and being one of the five writers. Maybe with fewer writers and having some less cheesy moments would help this adaption. Despite some blatant flaws, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark can be a great introduction into horror for a younger audience and has plenty to offer with its ideas that were executed properly.
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Image via Lionsgate
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R L Stine