For some, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019) pushes the nostalgia button hard, but I have no prior affection or connection with the short stories that director André Øvredal’s new film pulls from. I do, however, remember seeing them at my school library, but I always leaned towards R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps for my horror reading material. Despite my unfamiliarity with the source material, I was very hopeful that the film would be outstanding. Instead, I found it to just be fine.
Scary Stories mostly works, but there are elements that don’t feel developed enough
On Halloween of 1968, Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), Augie (Gabriel Rush), and Chuck (Austin Zajur) have plans to get revenge on Tommy (Austin Abrams), the high school Bully, for past Halloween shenanigans. Unfortunately, their plan works too well and they find themselves running and hiding from their old rival until they stowaway in a car at the local drive-in movie. Here, they meet Ramón and take him to the town’s old haunted house, which leads to the discovery of a storybook belonging to Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard). It doesn’t take long for new stories to begin to appear and have real-world repercussions.
If you are a fan of the books, you may have noticed that the above synopsis deviates from the source in a variety of ways. In order for the short stories to find their way into one connected film, they needed a framing device. For the most part, Stella’s story is just fine…though there are several parts that feel a little forced – especially the choice for setting, and the commentary that is made about Richard Nixon and the importance of owning the truth of our story. The themes never quite come together or congeal in any way that felt meaningful. Honestly, the presence of Nixon and the Vietnam war feels out of place in this young adult horror movie.
Fortunately, the horror elements and the design of the various creatures based on the illustrations from the books are great. I found several moments to genuinely be frightening and creepy. Auggie’s turn with the book was probably my favorite scene, and apparently, it is one of the more beloved stories. I can see why, as it is disturbing and haunting at the same time, and features a very cool design for the monster.
The young cast all preforms well, despite some of the dialogue feeling a little clunky. I was particularly impressed with Colletti. The movie rests on her shoulders, and she is able to carry it, even if some pieces of the story feels forced. Stella has a tragic past…her mother left her and her father (Dean Norris). This apparently led to her being picked on at school, which then led to her being a part of her small friend group. It’s played for tragedy, and she is able to deliver the emotions well enough.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is not the blockbuster film I’d hoped it to be. However, the movie is solid. It definitely could have been a little better, but it is enjoyable. I’m not sure if fans of the book will enjoy it since I don’t know how true it stayed – but it worked for me. Scary Stories earns a Decent Watch rating.