“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” stars Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Austin Abrams, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, and Dean Norris. Released on August 9, 2019, the film is about a group of teens who discover a series of sinister events in their hometown.
The film is directed by André Øvredal, who also directed “Trollhunter” and “The Autopsy of Jane Doe”, and it is based on the children’s book series of the same name by Alvin Schwartz. Remember the glory days when people used to sit around the campfire and make each other pee their pants with their scary stories? Well, what if those scary stories were actually more than just myths? Now that would’ve make people pee and poop their pants. Since its debut in 1981, the “Scary Stories” book series has terrified (and impressed) readers for years with its series of disturbing tales and images even though they are considered to be inappropriate for young kids. If there’s one thing I know about Hollywood nowadays, it’s that whenever there’s something in the past that’s popular and nostalgic, whether it’s a show or a book, they translate it onto the big screen for a new generation of fans. “Scary Stories” unsurprisingly fits into that category. I personally haven’t read the books myself because I’m more of a “Goosebumps” type of guy, but from what I heard, it’s probably for the best. Because of this, I will be reviewing it as its own without comparing it to the source material.
Instead of taking the anthology route like the source material, the film goes for the traditional narrative route by having the main characters encounter the creatures that originated from the book series. This is a similar strategy that the film adaptation of "Goosebumps" used less than four years ago. The only difference is that "Scary Stories" is actually a bit more scarier than funny. Even though the film is rated PG-13, it has plenty of frightening moments that might haunt the young kids in their dreams. If you read the books yourself, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Aside from that, is it any good? As a newcomer, I would say that it's a respectable introduction in terms of the style, while everything else is anything but nerve-wrecking. Like I mentioned before, the film’s plot is reminiscent to the 2015 film adaptation of “Goosebumps”, with some differences, of course. If you’ve seen “Goosebumps”, you might be able to point out a couple of similarities in “Scary Stories”. Thankfully, unlike the creepy scarecrow, it didn’t take a nasty beating from this minor setback. The only issue I had with the story was the lack of balance between fright and substance. It’s a standard horror film that relied a bit too much on its formula rather than representing something that strongly illustrates the power of stories to go along with the scares. If you don’t care that much about the story, you might enjoy it for its creepy, yet enjoyable, moments. Otherwise, the plot is nothing too special. The main cast in the film did what they could to provide some likability into their characters, which is one of the problematic issues that the current horror films have been facing today. For the most part, they were pretty decent, especially Zoe Colletti and Michael Garza as Stella and Ramon, respectively. However, that doesn’t mean that their characters are worth remembering. As usual, the main characters (Stella and Ramon) were the only ones that are worth caring about, while the supporting characters serve as horror bait with little to no character development. It’s Horror Film 101. There’s also a plot element involving Stella’s strained relationship with her father (played by Dean Norris) that didn’t exactly go anywhere for me. I think if they expand on that a bit more in the midst of the film’s ghoulish shenanigans, it would’ve provide some more depth into Stella as well as her father rather than have him in the film with nothing to do. There were also some scenes where some of the characters attempt to inject some humor into the film’s dark tone. The humor kind of helped in terms of preventing the film from being 100% grim, but like its characters, it’s not worth remembering. To give credit where credit is due, the style that was represented in the film was actually quite impressive. From its spooky atmospheric settings to the surprisingly terrifying creature designs, André Øvredal successfully honored the qualities that made the book series disturbing in the first place. As someone who hasn’t read the books, I was honestly pleased at how scary the film looked. The other issues I had with “Scary Stories” is the pacing and its overuse of dimly-lighted environments. This is the type of horror film that took its time to move things along and explore some of its characters a bit more rather than zooming right along like the Flash. While it’s not as painfully slow as “Midsommar”, it could test some people’s patience with its amount of non-scary filler, especially its first act. The film also had a few scenes that have darkly-lit environments, which might make things hard to see what’s going on. My personal advice for something like this? Don’t watch it in the daylight.
Overall, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” offers plenty of creeps and thrills that might satisfy fans of the source material, but its story failed to be as terrifying as the source material's iconic creatures themselves. André Øvredal’s filmmaking style worked very well with the film’s concept even though its formulaic plot and weak characters prevented it from reaching out towards newcomers. It’s a teen-rated version of “Goosebumps” that knows what it’s supposed to be for the fans, no more, no less.