REVIEW: Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark

Scary movies to show in the off season.

It’s Halloween in 1968 America and a band of misfit children manage to stumble upon a cursed book withholding their wicked fates.

In this precursor to Halloween season, Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark is the adaptation of a horror book series in which, to be honest… I had no idea existed. Apparently the Alvin Schwartz novel series for children ran down similar paths to Goosebumps with the simple difference of, well, freakier illustrations. I am serious when I say this guys; after I saw the film, I looked up the novels and, damn, were the sketches in those books way scarier than anything I saw in the movie. Either way, I went into Scary Stories blind, expecting it to just be another Halloween season horror flick featuring your cliché kid cast on a spookier adventure… and what I got was pretty much just that.

When I heard Guillermo del Toro was involved in the production of Scary Stories, I was rather intrigued. From the likes of Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, The Shape of Water and other del Toro films, I was primarily keen to see the various monster designs and gothic settings the film would likely adopt. And for the most part, my favourite elements of Scary Stories was the art direction. The eerie settings and locational set ups for some freaky moments of horror really shun. The construction of the film’s monsters were genuinely terrifying in a disturbed, unsettling matter. The visual appearances of some of these paranormal beings really had a way of creeping under your skin. I particularly would like to highlight the “red room” sequence as a definite standout when considering all parts of the film’s horror production.

The child performances were all also up to standards; really believable, comical and desperate in the best of ways. On many levels I really had very minimal issues with Scary Stories. The film was a very by-the-numbers, consumable horror movie. But… it just was not anything special and a flick I could not entirely recommend.
Sure, Scary Stories is enjoyable shlock and there is no massive underlying reason why you should not enjoy it. Hell, if you really do find this film entertaining, here’s to you. It’s just there was nothing about Scary Stories to me that popped out as highly entertaining or special.

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(CBS Films 2019)

The characters, first and foremost, felt very underdeveloped. Relationships were ill-defined and nothing entirely felt concrete about any character’s pure characteristics. They all felt in service to the story, which is not entirely a bad thing, but with a horror film you need to at least care about the people who are getting traumatised or else the horror is not effective. The characters in Scary Stories were traumatised like hell and yet none of them were interesting enough characters to have the audience care about.

It was like characters were there and then they weren’t. The kids in this film went through tremendous amounts of terror and yet none of the nightmares felt fulfilled. Even the characters never seemed to act appropriately to the demise of their sanity and, to an extent, lives. The film ran through a weird tone where a horrendous act would happen, the kids would be miserable or confused about it for a single scene and then the next scene they would almost entirely appear fine and just act like their best friends didn’t just disappear into thin air. In many ways, Scary Stories just felt like the starting off point for a franchise with the ending even heavily implying a sequel would be on its way… yet, I wasn’t excited about this revelation and more just tired.

Sure, there were exceptions to the idea that every character in Scary Stories felt faulty in execution but there were some whom managed to stand out. Most notably, Zoe Colletti’s Stella and Michael Garza’s Ramon really sold themselves as the film’s central stars with the best performances and best written characters. Yet, even in that instance, there was a subplot involving Stella and her father which really attempted to be this emotional anchor for the film but fell flat due to not enough development and weakly written interactions. You see, with this film, the ups also unfortunately came with the downs.

I also was not a massive fan of how the horror was depicted in this film. Again, besides the red room sequence, the horror just never appeared visually striking. Sure, the monsters and lighting were all incredible aspects but the way the cameras moved and introduced characters and creatures onto the screen never really allowed for anything shocking to appear. The film was just rather blandly shot.

Now, I am not familiar with the earlier work of director, André Øvredal, but from the way he filmed horror in Scary Stories I just have to assume he’s somewhat new to this. I do not want to diss the director as he honestly provided some talent behind the camera, but his direction for pure, uncensored horror was, honestly, not entirely present. Personally, I just was not really impressed.

Again though, film is subjective and yardy yardy yarder. Scary Stories was not a bad film by any stretch as I could certainly see it as a piece of entertaining media for anyone interested; but for me, the film just kind of fell flat. Thrilling in parts, comical in others, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was mild fun but del Toro directing would have made it insanely better… but we all already knew that.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, sadly, belongs in the… KINGDOM OF THE CRIMINALLY DULL…

 

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