Review: The Mild Horror Of “Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark”

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In André Øvredal’s “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” these loaded words are spoken by one of the film’s five sầu central teens, tormented by a self-writing storybook they had carelessly taken away from a haunted house in their small town of Mill Valley, PA around Halloween of 1968. Now let’s count all the formulaic components (as well as our consequent blessings) in this vista, shall we? Group of misfit kids on a mission? Chechồng. Period nostalgia (that"s not the overdone "80s of “Stranger Things” & “IT”)? Chechồng. Small-town Americamãng cầu that delightfully rhymes with “Hill Valley”? Cheông xã. Halloween? Haunted house? Possessed object? Cheông chồng kiểm tra kiểm tra. That’s certainly enough familiar ingredients to lớn make a foolproof pot of genre stew. And thanks lớn Øvredal’s visual flair & visceral dedication to lớn the monsters of Guillermo del Toro (aao ước the team of writers & producers here), clearly a major influence on the “Trollhunter” director’s bittersweet approach to lớn the field, this satisfying though far from innovative dish boasts comforting flavors throughout.

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If you, lượt thích me, did not grow up with tents in backyards, overnight trips lớn spooky lakeside grounds or marshmallows by campfires, you might be foreign to lớn the world of the “Scary Stories” trilogy of books; with creepy tales collected by Alvin Schwartz, và illustrations to lớn match done by Stephen Gammell. The good news is, Øvredal’s stylishly old-school flichồng doesn’t require any homework—your affection for genre-work lượt thích “The Changeling,” “Ringu” và “The Night of the Living Dead” as well as a mild nostalgic appreciation for “Goonies”-type fare will suffice. Though it’s still helpful khổng lồ know that these are anthology-style books. Co-scribes Dan và Kevin Hagemen (along with story crafters del Toro, Marcus Dunstung & Patriông chồng Melton) have sầu created a unifying (though choppy) narrative sầu arc around a number of the popular yarns of the books—“Harold,” “The Big Toe” and “The Red Spot” aước ao them—while keeping with the novels’ PG-13 spirit. Aý muốn the things “Scary Stories” might wake up could very well be a newfound appetite for horror in younger movie-watchers.

At the heart of the tale that celebrates the healing power of storytelling is the sweetly introverted Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti of “Wildlife”), a motherless aspiring writer with dad issues & a love of all-things-scary—her room is decorated wall-to-wall with tales and creatures she worships. There is also the enigmatic Ramón (Michael Garza), a Mexican-American teen who attempts to pass through town, but lingers around after saving Stella’s crew from bullies one night at the drive-in. Then we have sầu the nerdy Auggie (Gabriel Rush) in a Pierrot costume for Halloween—his outfit choice is a successful running gag—the goofy Chuông xã (Austin Zajur) as well as his beautiful, popular sister Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn). When the quintet visits an out-of-bounds, boarded-up mansion with a tragic past one night và takes away a storybook belonging to lớn the spirit of the once-murderous Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard)—she is said to be locked away by her rich & cruel family—they disturb the vengeful ghost và end up disappearing one by one. Gruesome tales start to lớn slowly appear in the book, designed in accordance with the teens’ worst fears.

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Predictably, the phối pieces of Øvredal’s film are a lot more fun lớn enjoy individually than to consider them within the context of the overarching tale. In that, the seams around the anthology show—we don’t quite connect with the kids’ individual fears in a deep sense when their nightmares find them. Thankfully however, even Øvredal seems lớn know the parts here are greater than the sum and doesn’t shy away from showing off the visual tricks he’s got up his sleeve sầu khổng lồ make each spine-tingling sequence pop in their own way. From the astonishing opening montage featuring Donovan"s “Season of the Witch” (a new version by Lana Del Rey comes in the end) khổng lồ crawling spiders and stalker-y ghouls, the bite-sized thrills of “Scary Stories” paông chồng plenty of jolts, though more effective for adolescent eyeballs than adults.


The film also engages with the country’s political history và racism, but only khổng lồ varying degrees of success. With the backdrop of a detailed production kiến thiết by David Brisbin that brings the era’s character to life, we get clear shots of Nixon on posters and TV và are reminded of the Vietnam War dread—a labored ambition that doesn’t quite land. Still, “Scary Stories” is a strangely uplifting throwback khổng lồ old-fashioned clans of investigative sầu teens. While it doesn’t break any new ground, there is plenty of vintage fun khổng lồ be had with kids who feel their way through life’s impending fears & live sầu khổng lồ tell the tale.

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Tomris Laffly

Tomris Laffly is a freelance film writer và critic based in Thành Phố New York. A thành viên of the Thủ đô New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), she regularly contributes tovtvplus.vn, Variety and Time Out Thủ đô New York, with bylines in Filmmaker Magazine, Film Journal International, Vulture, The Playlist and The Wrap, aý muốn other outlets.