Based on the popular collections of short stories aimed at children, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a new horror film set around Halloween being released in… early August? Perhaps this indicates a lack of confidence on the movie’s ability to hold up against competition in the spookiest month of the year, as the film doesn’t quite reach the level of thrills that it should, even for PG-13 horror.
The movie is about a group of teens who find a book in a haunted house that mysteriously writes its own stories involving their worst fears that end up coming to life. It’s a really cool premise, and likely even more so if you have a connection to the book series, but alas, for someone without that nostalgia factor, the film just isn’t spooky enough to work.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the movie is that, even though some of the monsters are legitimately creepy and interesting, there isn’t enough time spent with them to really build the tension surrounding them. The scenes with the actual monsters feel rushed, and as a result, some of them end up feeling rather laughable.
A few of the segments have some really creepy imagery that shows what this film could have been. The “Pale Lady” sequence, for example, has some creepy imagery that is accomplished through some wonderful costuming and use of color. Others, such as the “Jangly Man” sequence or the “Harold” scene, just don’t land and are unlikely to cause even the youngest of viewers nightmares.
Also frustrating is that the movie feels the need to try to incorporate a deeper social commentary. Although it is nice when a horror film is successful at trying to be deep, this movie seems to fundamentally lack the knowledge about the topics on which it hopes to provide commentary. For example, a character is classified as a “draft dodger” after having received his notice in the mail just a few days prior. It feels like the film just threw these messages in there in an attempt to make the movie mean something.
The character development in the film is one of its few stronger suits. Although all of the characters are stupid teenagers making stupid decisions, they are rather sympathetic and you do, shockingly enough, actually care about them somewhat. The friendship between the characters is very compelling, and is one of the few factors that actually draws you into the movie.
The cast of the film also isn’t bad. The lead of the movie, Zoe Margaret Colletti, is actually pretty likable. Although only time will tell whether or not she will have a future outside young adult fare, she seems poised to have a good few years ahead of leading teen movies, perhaps some romances and the inevitable sequel that will come if this film catches on with the thrill-hungry youth.
It is also important to note that André Øvredal is a hell of a director. He is able to take a subpar script and make it somewhat watchable through his able direction. Apart from some hectic editing every now and again, the movie looks surprisingly decent. Although the marketing wouldn’t indicate it, this is a period piece set in the late 1960’s. The production design does a great job of transporting you both back to the era and creating the Halloween feeling. Additionally, Øvredal worked with some of the best “monster actors” working in the business today, including Javier Botet, to bring the monsters to life.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark had a concept with a lot of potential, and director André Øvredal created a really interesting atmosphere, but the script is just too weak for it to be much fun. It has just enough to keep the interest of tween horror fanatics in the making, but there are some much better scary movies in theaters right now and on the horizon.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is now playing in theaters.