Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark is surprisingly a well done PG-13 horror film. From time to time there comes a horror film that shows how effective it can be without being R rated. Two standouts within the last decade include Insidious and The Conjuring, both directed by the talented James Wan. These films managed to frighten audiences by ditching blood and guts to focus on building tension with solidly written characters involved and a growing sense of danger. While Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark isn’t nearly as effective, it still a great example of just how effective a PG-13 horror film can be.
Directed by André Øvredal and based on Alvin Schwartz’s popular children’s book anthology series of the same name, the film follows a group of friends in the late 1960s who discover an old book that writes the horrific fates of the townspeople. The film’s cast includes Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams, Austin Zajur, and Natalie Ganzhorn. For those that grew up with the book series, Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark will certainly bring back old childhood fears.
The central plot focuses on Stella, Auggie, Ramon, and Chuck, a group of teens who discover a book in a haunted house that brings their fears to life. Sound familiar? That’s because this is the 2015 Goosebumps film done properly. Make no mistake about it, this is a movie about stupid teens doing stupid things, but they are all likable in some way. Chuck brings fills the cliched comedic role, Stella is the brains of the operation, and Ramon is the new kid in town. Despite being based on a series of children’s stories, the film pushes the boundaries a bit but remains very playful and lighthearted.
Adding to that, each cast member does a solid job in their respective role, but Colletti’s performance as Stella is a standout, as she can make you care for her character’s situation more effectively out of everyone else. Of course, she is the main character so it would be expected that the film’s lead effectively carries it, and she does that very well. It will be interesting to see what she brings to the table for the inevitable sequel.
One thing that hinders Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark, is its lack of time spent with the monsters involved. These monsters are visually pleasing to see on screen, except for the Jangly Man, who doesn’t seem properly edited. With each new scary story, there comes an introduction to another monster, but only five to ten minutes is spent with each one. Even Harold, who is one of Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark’s well-known monsters doesn’t get enough screentime. Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark would rather spend its runtime discussing racial injustice and other social issues, almost as if Jordan Peele stepped in for a brief cameo in the writing department. These are all background elements that don’t connect to the film’s monsters or its main story.
Luckily, the talented Autopsy of Jane Doe director showcases just how good he is at building tension. Øvredal delivers effective PG-13 scares that rely heavily on tension building and a few jumpscares. Also, Marco Beltrami and Anna Drubich’s score compliments the film’s tone and atmosphere.
While not a complete home run, Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark has a lot of good elements that are blended very well for the most part, but the screenplay is lacking in some places. Adults that grew up with the series of books will certainly get their nostalgia trip and everyone else who is unfamiliar with the concept will equally have just as much fun.