MOVIE REVIEW: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Most of my friends had the pleasure of being introduced to the horror genre at a young age. Some of them were introduced to The Exorcist, The Shining or The Omen at a young age and immediately fell in love with the genre. For other friends, their parents raised them in slasher country. Introducing their children to the classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street. I, however, am from a conservative, Christian and sometimes strict household. It wouldn’t be until I was already an adult when I would first see Freddy tear up nightmares or Michael Myers stalk Laurie Strode for the first time. My introduction to the horror genre was books. Being raised in the 90s, it was prime time for horror books aimed at youth. From Goosebumps to Fear Street to Are You Afraid of the Dark? And of course, the Scary Stories trilogy.

The now iconic cover to the first entry into the trilogy features a skull smoking a pipe with blue and red smears – similar to the Joker’s makeup. Scary Stories has always been a cult following behind it. Now, the short stories which have been told over the centuries are finally moving past the campfire and onto the silver screen. The question remains though – how do you cohesively create a story to weave a series of legends, fables and campfire stories? Look no further than the big screen adaption that is bringing everyone’s favorite scary stories to the big screen.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark centers on a group of teenagers who stumble into a haunted house on Halloween night, only to discover a supernatural book that slowly starts to pick the friends off one by one. The source material behind the film is a collection of short stories meant to be told around a campfire. The writing trio of Dan and Kevin Hageman, along with producer Guillermo del Toro pay the utmost homage to the source material, while brilliantly crafting a cohesive narrative. Throughout its’ duration, Stories manage not to only world build extraordinarily well but to make a truly terrifying villain in Sarah Bellows. Even by the end of the journey, the writers manage to humanize and even create her to be sympathetic. Though, the writing isn’t always a home run.

Viewers will experience scenes that feel more in line with a Free Form or Nickelodeon show than they do horror movie. There are definitely elements of the film that feel as though this was crafted with teenagers in mind. A romance arc between lead actors Zoe Margaret Colletti’s Stella & Michael Garza’s Ramon feels forced and cheapens the horrific atmosphere the movie is trying to create.  Outside of the romance arc, Colletti and Garza have great chemistry between one another. Within their respective roles, do a good job for the most part. There are several times where the Scary tries to get emotional and all of the actors responses in those moments are the true horror of this movie. For as good as they are within the remainder of the movie – the emotional sequences never quite land for the young actors.

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Though no young actor within this cast is as bad as Austin Abrams’ Tommy. Abrams is supposedly the antagonist for the main teenage cast prior to Sarah Bellows entering the picture. He is your typical high school bully and jock. Abrams is just never intimidating and just feels like he tries too hard. Some of that could be the actor and some could be the writing. Whatever the case, it is some of the hardest material in the film to get through. Though his ultimate fade does give way for one of the film’s best features in its’ visual design. The practical effects are gorgeous. The makeup department did a phenomenal job on the monsters that make up the Bellows’ army. Truly setting the bar for fear in the world of Scary Stories.

Overall, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, is a charming little horror movie. The film is well crafted thanks to its’ brilliant script, world building techniques, terrifying practical effects and the powerful yet sympathetic villain in Sarah Bellows. With Bellows, the film not only boasts scares and visuals but a surprising amount of depth and humor. Led by a cast of fresh faces, Scary Stories takes you on a journey that pays homage to its source material while brilliantly building its future. There are some elements with the film’s school bully and a romance arc that feel forced. Honestly at times these are the hardest sequences to get through. Despite the bugs in this one, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark could have just as much power as its’ books and instantly go down with cult status.

RORSCHACH RATING SCALE:

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