Movie Review

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Director: André Øvredal
Starring: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, and Dean Morris
Monte’s Rating
3.25 out of 5.00

By MONTE YAZZIE
FILM CRITIC

“In the dark and the gloom, it is easy for someone listening to imagine all sorts of strange and scary things,” Alvin Schwartz.

Alvin Schwartz’s collection of short stories for children in “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” played a pivotal role for many young horror kids in the 80s and 90s.

The creepy tales, urban legends and campfire yarns opened the creaky door to a generation of kids. Filling their summer reading lists with tales about ghosts with bloody fingers, a corpse looking for their lost toe and hook-armed killers stalking teenagers.

The collection of books “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” served as a gateway for many young horror fans into the world of the strange, the unusual and the scary.

The pivotal books find its big screen adaptation at the hands of director André Øvredal. His big monster film “Troll Hunter,” and eerie supernatural film “The Autopsy of Jane Doe,” seem fitting for a filmmaker tackling the eerie, yet playful tone, found in “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.”

The film is positioned in 1968, Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) are going out on Halloween night with a plan to get revenge on some school bullies.

Things take a turn for the worst, and a stranger named Ramon (Michael Garza) steps in to protect the group of friends at the drive-in. Before Halloween is over, they are all exploring a haunted mansion with a dark secret.

While searching the house, the group stumble upon a collection of books featuring stories from Sarah Bellows, a girl locked away for her entire life by an evil family.

From the opening moments, which features a voiceover that emulates the foreword from the book, Øvredal establishes an atmosphere that is wholly creepy and mature. But it very quickly turns tailored for a younger audience.

Having a group of young people as the focal point is a great touch, the composition of the friends has a vibe most familiar to “Stranger Things.” With other interesting touches from films like “Stand by Me” and “The Monster Squad.”

It works well in establishing the environment of the film that starts with lighthearted and humorous banter between the group of friends. They have great chemistry with one another before the movie turns towards the scary elements.

The composition of Stella is played nicely by Zoe Margaret Colletti, her character as a horror movie loving nerd is especially fun.

The screenplay, with a story by Guillermo del Toro that’s scripted by Kevin and Dan Hageman, does the difficult task of adding the overarching narrative of the kids and haunted house to the anthology of stories from the books.

There are some really strong elements incorporated into parts of the film, and a few problematic pieces that glaringly come to light when everything needs to be wrapped up at the end.

The strongest moments exist when establishing  the characters and with how the short stories from the books come to life in the film. Specifically, the story of a scarecrow and another about a walking corpse, which are both completely creepy.

Unfortunately, the film needs to find a conclusion to the story of the four friends trying to escape the scary stories of a vengeful spirit.  In the process of maneuvering the twists and turns introduced through the tales of Sarah Bellows, the concluding 30 minutes is lost in its own maze of stories.

The frights throughout the film have fun building tension with payoffs that are mostly loud jump scares, which works until the scares begin to thread on similar ground.

The scares work best when the film commits to practical effects design. It just feels creepier and more threatening than the computer-generated effects, which simply aren’t scary.

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is having a lot of fun tailoring a film for a new generation of fright fans. While some aspects of the script don’t come together so nicely from start to finish, the overall tone feels just spooky enough to open the door for that young horror fan wanting to make the jump into the genre.