Directed by André Øverdal, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark stars Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush and Austin Zajur as a group of kids who unknowingly awake a vengeful spirit, who unleashes her evil through a book of scary stories. As one by one the kids are snatched by the spirit, it is up to whoever is left to stop the next story being written and solve the mystery of Sarah Bellows before it’s too late.
The film has been produced by Guillermo Del Toro, which is honestly the only thing that excited me about a Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark movie. I never read the books, being more of a Goosebumps kid back in the day, but knowing they were once a series a stories being possibly adapted into an anthology film was enticing. The illustrations are famous for terrorising a generation of young readers, and the film adaptation looked to honour those horrifying creature designs.
This is, however, not an anthology film, but rather a story about a bunch of kids trespassing on a haunted house, finding a mysterious and dark book of scary stories, then slowly being terrorised by the spirits held within, but without anything particularly new. It’s unfortunately another jump-scare-reliant horror movie with obvious Stranger Things-inspirations but without the right intentions or proper execution of its time setting or promising horror ideas. I can’t speak to director André Øverdal’s other horror films Trollhunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe, but here his execution of potentially fantastic and terrifying sequences of living scarecrows, body part soups, pale naked women and spider pimples are all letdowns.
Every time the movie starts to go into another story being told of a character being terrorised by an evil monster brought to life out of their nightmares, you start to feel the delicious dread I for one crave in horror. Sinking in the seat, wanting to look away but ultimately helpless to do. The things that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark are well-crafted on a technical level, featuring fantastic practical effects for the most part, shot in a centralised and lovely style by Roman Osin. You’ve probably seen the creepiest stuff in the trailer, and when those scenes play out, it either features something screaming your ears off or ending with nothing actually happening or worse its ruined by bad CGI, all creating a tedious experience.
On a performance level, lead actress Zoe Colletti is a shining star. She’s required to go through a lot of rather intense emotions in most given scenes, and does so brilliantly, none more effective than in the final confrontation with the spirit of Sarah Bellows, the villain of the piece. Other actors are relative unknowns (I’ve never seen them before) and play said characters well-enough to carry scenes along, but no one is able to keep up with Colletti, thus falling to wayside of a great central performance. Also Dean Norris is here too, but I honestly forgot until just now.
Perhaps Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark would have been a better time at the movies had Guillermo Del Toro written the whole script or even directed. He did shepherd this project along, but only in the practical effects department does it feel slightly close to his style. What we have now is a middle-of-the-road horror flick that tries to be spooky and frightening, but comes off mostly as cheap and overly-long, lacking in much lasting impact beyond one great performance, a few well-made shots, and a solid score from Marco Beltrami and Anna Drubich. Like a scary story told by someone who can’t remember half of it, I’m definitely not going to remember Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in a month or so.