“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” from director André Øvredal based on the short stories for children written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell that were first published in 1981. This one stars Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, and Austin Zajur. With a story that centers on a group of teenagers who face their worst fears when they stumble across a book filled with grim stories, and a haunting presence. Unlike many film-adaptations of written works I’m actually semi-familiar with the source material here.
I remember some of the stories growing up and can recall how back then the stories did push the scope of things acceptable for kids, despite being available in my school library. So, with those memories of these stories, and as a fan of the horror genre, I was interested in what this film could deliver. André Øvredal did a great job with his direction in “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” from 2016 and with Guillermo del Toro backing this as a producer, as well as adding to the screenplay, I felt confident this would be a unique film inside the genre. One that could lure me into many dark and ominous locations.
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After watching I will say it captured my imagination more than enough to engage me in the story and characters. It also could be classed as unique, but at the same time it could be classed as not overly fresh. This film plays out with a single narrative that incorporates these various stories into the events that take place. The separate stories movie the overall plot forward and they were all blended together nicely. However, I was hoping for more of an anthology structure to this one with independent tales that could create their own mood and tone to take me off to different settings.
The main story-line in this one was familiar to many other genre films like it which was a let down to me. The addition of these smaller stories and their creatures certainly do infuse the film with energy that does make the routine plot work. But it also naturally gives the film its own tone that all the other stories had to fit under. So for that aspect, while it did have some great horror moments and strong performances. It wasn’t as ambitious as I had hoped in terms of how it was structured. Yet, to this films credit what it does deliver was a good time, just different than what I was expecting going in.
That didn’t stop it from being a solid film that I enjoyed. I think it works in loads of fun, creepy, and sinister horror moments. It also delivers them with a variety of backdrops that use lighting, and color in different ways to create some frightening imagery. The direction was great and doesn’t over-edit things, and it doesn’t rely on cheap jump-scares which I always appreciate. The design of the various creatures is well done. The hallway scene in the Red Room section of the script with this big expressionless figure was truly demented looking. Harold the scarecrow was excellent, as was the look and movement of Jangly Man. There was a heavy use of CGI but also some fun practical-effects and overall, I think the visual appeal in this one was a success.
Another bright spot was the performances. I think Colletti, Garza, Zajur, and Rush made a great group of appealing characters. They all captured their relationship dynamics through a believable chemistry with one another that didn’t force anything. Colletti was fantastic in my opinion with an emotionally driven performance that was able to make this film stand out in the genre. A film like this is often only as good as its lead, and here Colletti shined. Zajur came in as well with some genuine comic-relief. And with a clever wit to the dialogue overall, I think the laughs were more than effective in breaking the tension when needed.
It isn’t always easy to work moments of levity into a horror script but with a nice timing from the performers and a solid sense-of-humor to the writing, I think it was able to be a great complement to the darker moments. The pace does lull a couple of times, but overall things did keep moving with continual progression. I think the fact that the main backbone of this film being similar to many others, was something that slowed the pace and hindered the intrigue at times. But like I said all of these things put together with a solid musical score does create a fun movie that I think would have done very well had it been released closer to Halloween. I do recommend giving this one a shot if you are interested because I had a good time, despite it not being as ambitious as I was hoping. It does deliver a handful of horror tropes, but it doesn’t rely on them and I think it stands on its own legs as a mass consumable horror movie. The performances are solid, the visual appeal is as well, and watching it on the big screen was immersive.