“Stories hurt, stories heal.” – Stella Nicholls
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is based on the children’s book series of the same name by Alvin Schwartz. I never grew up reading these books, or even had I heard of them, until I got notified of Guillermo del Toro writing the screenplay for this adaptation. Purely based on the trailer and its premise, I was expecting something eery, with a Goosebumps-feel to it.
The story is set in 1968. It’s Halloween and a trio of high school teenagers decide to go trick-or-treating for the very last time, before they head to college. After “egg-ing” the high school bully’s car, our group of friends has to run for their lives, when being chased through the woods. Here they bump into the abandoned Bellows manor, which everyone assumes is haunted by Sarah Bellows, the daughter of the wealthy Mr. Bellows. In the dark manor, they find a book with scary stories, that belonged to Sarah. Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) decides to take the book with her, unknowingly unleashing an evil force that will haunt her and her friends.
André Øvredal‘s film is definitely made to appeal to a younger audience that likes jump scares. I’m not a big fan of those, since I feel like it cheapens the atmosphere that a film’s setting is trying to establish. There’s a lot of jump scares, and they’re not even that good. The stories that come to life in the film are genuinely scary, although on the short side. Being that the film runs for a 108 minutes, I felt like the screenplay really took its time to pull me in. For some viewers, this might take too long and find it boring by the time the first creature brutally pops onto the screen.
The visual and practical effects are terrifying. The “Pale Lady” is something that could haunt your dreams for life – not overly gross or disgusting, but just creepy and disturbing. The production design gives you that late ’60s feel without ever coming across overproduced. Marco Beltrami and Anna Drubich‘s score feels a little bit generic, and could’ve easily been the score for the new Goosebumps film. Myself being a big fan of Beltrami’s work, this was a bit of a disappointment.
The young cast was simply terrific. Leading the pack is Zoe Margaret Colletti (Wildlife) who could easily become the next Emma Stone. Her emotional range is spectacular and this performance should definitely get her some exciting new opportunities. The other supporting members of the main group are the charming Michael Garza (Wayward Pines), a short but impressive performance by Gabriel Rush (The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Austin Zajur (Fist Fight).
When Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark finally decides to drive up the intensity, it mostly makes you look forward to the next story to unfold right before your eyes. The film has some pacing issues and that could let a lot of horror fans down, but the atmosphere overall makes up for that. The story sets up a sequel, which if this first instalment does well, will definitely get made in the next couple of years. Must be the season of the witch.
Review – Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Reviewed at Event Cinemas, Sydney, Sept. 26, 2019. CBA Rating: M. Running time: 108 min.
PRODUCTION: A Universal Pictures International release, presented with Entertainment One, in association with CBS Films, of a 1212 Entertainment, Double Dare You, Roling Hills Productions, Sean Daniel Company, Starlight International Media production. Producers: Jason F. Brown, J. Miles Dale, Sean Daniel, Guillermo del Toro, Elizabeth Grave. Executive producers: Roberto Grande, Joshua Long.
CREW: Director: André Øvredal. Screenplay: Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Guillermo del Toro; story: Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton; based on the novel by: Alvin Schwartz. Camera (color): Roman Osin. Editor: Patrick Larsgaard. Music: Marco Beltrami, Anna Drubich.
WITH: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Lorraine Toussaint, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Austin Abrams, Kathleen Pollard.