Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Dean Norris
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…drab and listless spookshow.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark began life as a popular children’s book by Alvin Scwartz and, while it never made much of a cultural impact in Australia, it was hugely popular in the United States and beyond. A mixture of folklore, classical literature and urban legends informed the writing of the short stories, and made an indelible impact on generations of impressionable youngsters. A film adaptation seemed a gimme, and with Guillermo Del Toro writing the screen story and producing, not to mention talented director Andre Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe) at the helm, Scary Stories was shaping up to be a genre classic for a younger audience. So why then is the result just sort of… there?
Scary Stories tells the ambitious, and frankly convoluted, story of three teens, Stella (Zoe Colletti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) who run afoul of a bully on Halloween night and end up trapped in the local haunted house. There they discover a book full of scary stories and unwittingly unleash a curse that will soon have their friends and family starring in real life versions of manifested tales.
Scary Stories comes alive when it’s adapting mostly effective twists on the well-worn vignettes the book is famous for, however, the overlong, needlessly complicated investigation by the kids around these moments really makes the film drag.
Set, for some reason, in 1968, the investigation sections have the look and tone of a more mature, adult genre flick, yet the scare scenes are undoubtedly skewed for slightly morbid tweens. The end result is a weird disconnect, where the set ups are slower and more considered and the pay-offs goofy and relatively lightweight.
Øvredal’s direction is just as moody and tense as his other work, but it seems ill-suited to this material and the sequences that rely heavily on CGI, particularly a notorious moment involving spiders, just don’t land. That said, the final third features effective staging and genuinely gruesome imagery, but it’s just a little late in the runtime to save it.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark suffers from an identity crisis and never seems to relax into what type of movie it wants to be. The perky scares are dragged down by the leaden drama, and it’s hard to imagine any but the most patient of youngsters freaking out over this rather drab and listless spookshow.