TL;DR – A solid horror film, with a good premise that meanders a bit in the middle before coming back strong in the end.
Score – 3 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
I have to admit that I am not as big of a horror aficionado as a lot of the critics out there. I prefer the tension and suspense of a film like Get Out over a horror gorefest. However, I have made it a plan to try and broaden the films I see and also if you ever want me to see a film having the story by Guillermo del Toro is a great way to do it. With that in mind let’s have a look at a film that champions what goes bump in the night.
In 1968 a lot of things are happening, the Vietnam War is in full swing, Richard Nixon is up for re-election, and in a small town called Mill Valley in Pennsylvania, the local residents are getting ready for Halloween. Stella (Zoe Colletti) does not want to go out but is coaxed out by her friends Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) because this might be their last Halloween together. After running into local bully Tommy (Austin Abrams) who is on a date with Chuck’s sister Ruthie (Natalie Ganzhorn) they hide in Ramón’s (Michael Garza) car. Ramón is from out of town, so Stella suggests they take him to the Bellows’ House, the town’s local haunted house. Legend says that the family that founded the town locked their daughter Sarah (Kathleen Pollard) in the basement but she would tell stories through the wall to local children and then the kids would die. Everything is going fine until Stella finds a book, a book of Sarah’s stories, a book that is still writing more stories one by one.
has been a while since I have watched a film that captured that Goosebumps energy and brought it to
life, sometimes quite literally. You have all the key points, a creepy musical
score, a haunted house, a book that writes stories that become real, and more.
All of the monsters created in the film are all horrifying in their own ways. This
is achieved through a synergy of practical and digital effects that work of each
other’s strengths. There is Harold the Scarecrow, who is introduced in the
first couple of minutes of the film, who both walks and runs in a way that is
both familiar but also very wrong. What helps sell it all is some of the most creepy
foley work I have heard in a while and a camera that knows when to linger and
when to cut.
Part of what makes this film really work is the strength of the cast and their ability to sell what is happening. At the core of this is Zoe Margaret Colletti who plays Stella and who has the difficult task of carrying much of the emotional weight of the film. Indeed there is a scene with her and her father (Dean Norris) that really cut me to my core and I kind of wish more of the film could have hit those high notes. I also want to take a moment to give praise to the actors that played the monsters and helped to bring them to life.
don’t get a lot of back story on our main four, more one sort of history nugget
that you can bite on to and the rest is supposition. There is also some broader
commentary on the state of mental health at the time, with some allusions to postpartum
depression and the lack of people understanding what that is. While there is a
lot going under the surface it is more subtext than text and I don’t think it
made the most of its historical setting. The framework the film uses to fit the
timing is Richard Nixon’s election, and I’m not sure if this is a holdover from
the original text but it does not seem to add anything here.
The story moves from being interesting to frustrating to interesting again as this film shows an amazing first and third acts but almost grinds to a halt in the second. I think part of that is because the film goes out of its way to force people to be by themselves when there is already a plethora of evidence that splitting the part is a bad idea. This had the effect of really blunting what might have been the best reveal in the entire film. However, thankfully my frustration was only short-lived when the truly amazing final act comes into play with one of the more interesting resolutions that I have seen in this genre.
In the end, do we recommend Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? Yes, I think we would. It is not a perfect film and I wish some of those frustrating story beats from the 2nd act had be worked on. However, when it is on fire it is amazing to watch and make getting to sleep the night after the screening a very difficult premise.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow
Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV,
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or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Directed by – André Øvredal
Story by – Guillermo del Toro, Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan
Screenplay by – Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman
Based on – Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Music by – Marco Beltrami & Anna Drubich
Cinematography by – Roman Osin
Edited by – Patrick Larsgaard
Production/Distribution Companies – CBS Films, Entertainment One, Lionsgate & Universal
Starring – Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Lorraine Toussaint, Kathleen Pollard, Mark Steger, Troy James, Andrew Jackson & Javier Botet.
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; Germany: 16; New Zealand: R; United Kingdom: 15; United States: PG-13