Main cast: Zoe Colleti (Stella Nicholls), Michael Garza (Ramón Morales), Gabriel Rush (August “Auggie” Hilderbrandt), Austin Abrams (Tommy Milner), Austin Zajur (Chuck Steinberg), Natalie Ganzhorn (Ruth Steinberg), Dean Norris (Deputy Roy Nicholls), Gil Bellows (Police Chief Turner), Lorraine Toussaint (Lou Lou), Kathleen Pollard (Sarah Bellows), and Will Carr (Dr Ephraim Bellows)
Director: André Øvredal
Alvin Schwartz writes the best kind of horror stories for kids. They are unsuitably graphic and mature, and parents went crazy when they discovered what his stories were about. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is inspired by those stories, and… it’s sadly more like Goosebumps than things your parents warned you against when you were eight. Also, because Stranger Things is all the rage – although I still maintain the season should have ended after the first one – this one is set in 1968, a time when Vietnam War is taking place and people on the radio are calling for protests and such.
In this one, we meet Stella Nicholls, a young lady in high school who is not exactly popular because everyone knows that her mother abandoned the family when she was younger, and people sort of said the woman left because of Stella. Our heroine is a fan of horror stories, and she also writes them as training for the day when she becomes the new LJ Smith or something. That Halloween night, she and her fellow horror fans and BFFs Auggie and Chuck are doing their thing when they earn the ire of Tommy, the cool kid who also happens to be the boyfriend of Chuck’s sister Ruth, and his entourage.
With the help of an older boy Ramón, they manage to escape those kids and decide to visit the infamous, supposedly haunted home of the Bellows. Back in those days, before she hanged herself, the troubled Sarah Bellows was locked up, but she would tell scary stories through the wall of her room to curious people who gather at the other side. Rumor has it, she still haunts the place. What do you know, they soon discover a secret room that seems to have once belonged to Sarah, and Stella just has to take with her a book of scary stories that belonged to the dead girl.
Oops, soon new stories begin to show up in the book, likely written by a ghostly Sarah, and worse, the stories star the people they know! These people all meet bad ends, caused by their childhood fears came to life. Can these kids stop Sarah in time before they too end up starring in their own Goosebumps story?
Wow, I have an idea why I haven’t seen or heard about Michael Garza until now. That dude is terrible in this movie – he has at most two singular facial expressions throughout the movie, and he utters his lines like he’s reading them off the teleprompter. Given that the other, presumably younger cast members are acting rings around him, and he plays a major role in this movie, that fellow makes it really hard for me to watch him. He is so outclassed here.
That wooden lead aside, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is an alright movie for the most part. Unlike the crap like those The Conjuring Universe movies out there, the jump scares here are judiciously used and each is earned.
However, the whole thing also feels more like a theme park ride than a horror film. The CGI monsters resemble theme park attractions designed to be just a little bit scary so as to not scare kids too much, and as a result, I feel that the source material is far more genuinely scary than this movie. Worse, as the movie progresses, the stories within the story format of this film becomes far more rushed and less well developed. The first two stories within a story, for example, have good build up and suspense – although the walking scarecrow is unintentionally funny for all the wrong reasons – but the remaining two have barely any thought put into them. Throughout it all, Stella is a pretty interesting character but her BFFs are one-note archetypes. Anything interesting about Ramón is negated by the milquetoast playing him.
In the end, this one seems torn between wanting to be a creepy wonderland or a franchise-friendly IP, and its indecisiveness is evident.