Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

LIONSGATE (2019)

Directors: André Øvredal

Starring: Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Lorraine Toussaint

I love me a good scary story. As long as it’s good…obviously. Just the title of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was enough to get me on board – add in that fact that André Øvredal (Trollhunters, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) is directing and Guillermo del Toro is on producing duties and, boy, were things in place for a horror treat coming into the Fall season. Based on an infamous 1980s young anthology book, the movie is set in the late 1960s and follows a group of teens through a story that itself isn’t delivered in an anthology format (which is a huge shame)

The teens in question – Stella (Colletti), Augie (Rush), Chuck (Zajur) and Ramón (Garza) – do that most sensible of things – sneak into an abandoned haunted house on HALLOWEEN to look for secrets about a local legend – young Sarah Bellows. Inside, they find an old book full of Sarah’s spooky stories all written in children’s blood, however, the curse of the book starts to unleash horrific creatures and nightmarish visions upon the young gang. Good idea that, going into the decrepit home of a child-murdering family on the spookiest night of the year (or maybe I’m just old?) but this is horror and that’s just fine in this genre!

 

Scary Stories could possess the most misleading title of the year. I was sure this was going to be an anthology of scary stories…to…watch in the dark. Alas, the narrative structure is standard and, to be honest, so is an awful lot of the movie in general – there’s not a lot here that stands out as fresh or original which wouldn’t be an issue if the movie had more going for it. As it stands, Scary Stories is just fine. It’s a movie that moves from horror set piece to set piece with lots of padding in between that doesn’t ever really achieve the emotional weight it strives for leaving it feeling slightly hollow. The set pieces themselves are very decent, Øvredal manages to capture a fizzingly nervous atmosphere as the fear begins to rise. He makes the most out of his locations and creepy creature designs but does fall foul of the ol’ jump scare a bit too many times. The character building in-between fails because the characters themselves aren’t all that interesting – none of them stand out and you can literally tell who’s going to die as soon as they appear onscreen. Colletti is good in the lead but the performances overall all feel slightly lacking. Just like the script, actually. The dialogue is shockingly bland and uninteresting, riddled with clichés and melodrama, and even leaves room for an expositionary clichéd newspaper research scene – let actions speak louder than vanilla words. There’s a subplot surrounding Ronald Reagan’s successful presidential election which goes nowhere and adds little – it’s that kind of movie, it goes nowhere really whilst managing to look good and maintain a suitably spooky vibe for large parts. The first half is far stronger than the second – when the mystery is being unravelled and things feel like a real throwback to horror movies gone by, Scary Stories carries a momentum that feels like it should be going somewhere substantial but it dissipates the further into the movie we get.

 

As the Fall approaches, Scary Stories is an ideal candidate for your Halloween fright night if you’re interested in catching something that’s entertaining enough, laced with a few decent scares and set pieces but isn’t going to knock your socks off. There’s plenty of imagery that’ll stir the butterflies/bats in your tummy but, unfortunately, it’s generally more style than substance. A great premise which is frustratingly underutilised, Scary Stories isn’t really a great scary story – it’s just pretty good.

September 4th 2019

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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