Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Rating
3.0 / 5
REVIEW AUTHOR

Corey Hogan

Director

André Øvredal

STARS

Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Dean Norris

Release Date

26 September 2019

RUNTIME

108mins

Distributor

Universal Pictures

Teens awaken an ancient evil on Halloween and must face their fears in order to… you know what? I’m sure you already know the rest.

It’s Halloween 1968 in a small Pennsylvanian town. Stella (Zoe Colletti), a young aspiring horror author, and her friends Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) befriend a young drifter named Ramón (Michael Garza) and invite him to explore a local haunted house with them. Stella delightedly stumbles upon a book of scary stories written by a former resident of the house. Naively taking the book, the friends realise they’ve awoken something disturbing when new stories begin to appear in its pages, coming to fruition in sinister ways.

After two horror films that smartly subverted expectations and genre norms (Troll Hunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe), Norwegian director André Øvredal takes a step sideways into safer, studio-driven territory with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

The series of short stories by Alvin Schwartz – upon which the film is based – were once considered controversial for containing tales and illustrations too macabre for children. Realistically, the books were written for a slightly more mature demographic, but they were the kind of things that filled younger kids with a rebellious, terrified glee that would give them nightmares for weeks if they happened to get their hands on them.

That real sense of dread is mostly lost in its translation to the screen. Younger viewers will no doubt get plenty of unpleasant jolts, but broadening itself for bigger box office prospects means it’s nothing hardened horror veterans – or even standard moviegoers  – haven’t seen before.

Øvredal and his production team let their imaginations run rampant, creating ominous visuals, a creaking soundscape and a lighting design that shifts from dark and shadowy to blood-red. Being a Guillermo Del Toro production means the monster designs are top notch, and save for one or two that rely too heavily on CGI, most are actually pretty creepy looking.

However, ‘the curious kids awakening an ancient curse’ stencil is well worn out and coming off the back of better films of its ilk, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark doesn’t really find its own voice. Add to this the overtly anticlimactic finale and the painful “this is just the beginning” sequel-setup voiceover – it’s not an animal that stands out from the pack.

That said, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is still just fun enough to scrape by. Its young cast does well, particularly Zoe Colletti, and there’s enough goofy thrills to entertain. With a huge collection of stories still at their disposal, let’s hope Øvredal and co. kick it up a notch for the inevitable follow-up.

Images © Universal Pictures 2019

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