In theaters now!

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK (2019)

Directed by André Øvredal
Written by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Guillermo del Toro (screenplay), Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton (story), based on stories by Alvin Schwartz and illustrations by Stephen Gammell
Starring Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Lorraine Toussaint, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Austin Abrams, Kathleen Pollard, Javier Botet, Hershel Blatt, Will Carr, Troy James, Brandon Knox, Jane Moffat, Amanda Smith, Matt Smith, Mark Steger, David Tompa, Marie Ward
Find out more about this film here

First off, I absolutely love that André Øvredal is getting some mainstream work. I think the man is talented and has given the horror genre a much needed boost through only three films TROLLHUNTER, THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE, and now SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. But after seeing SCARY STORIES, I have to point out that the man is in danger of repeating his schtick one too many times. While I am willing to give him a pass with his first big time movie credit, I’m hoping in his next film Øvredal comes up with a few new ways to bring the chills.

It’s Halloween night in the late 60’s in smalltown America and a group of outcasts find themselves in the abandoned house of Sarah Bellows, a young girl who coped with her tortured existence by writing her horrible experiences down as stories in a lost book. One of the kids, Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti, a dead ringer for IT’s Sophia Lillis), finds the book and the group of kids become haunted by the creatures in those very stories…that are best told…in the dark.

The most powerful aspect of SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is the fantastic imagery and monster effects the film is able to achieve. From the rickety and awkwardly walking scarecrow to the smiling overweight lunatic to the corpse missing a toe to the twisted jangly man; every monster in this story has been torn from the pages of the children’s book series illustrated by Stephen Gammell. This imagery is infamous for being nightmarish in its original form and I think Øvredal and producer Guillermo Del Toro has made a true achievement for bringing these images to vivid and terrifying life. The monsters alone makes this film worth checking out for any horror fan who has been a fanatic from a very early age.

The film itself and the stories around these monsters is definitely geared for an all ages group. It’s the type of film a grownup horror fan can bring their kids to (I’d say 10 and up) and feel safe that there won’t be too many swears and no sex. It just celebrates that thrilling feeling that attracts true horror fans to the genre—it’s an element that is the gateway drug for deeper and darker horrors. In this way, the film feels more Speilbergian than Lovecraftian. There’s a scampy and real vibe to the kids and a very real, but not too intense feel to the dangers in SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. This feels more like an all ages rollercoaster ride that can be experiences, jumped at, laughed at, and then soon shrugged off.

And I think that’s SCARY STORIES’s biggest fault as well. None of the scares really resonate beyond the immediate reaction. This isn’t a film you’re going to discuss long and hard after viewing. It’s a breezy popcorner that unfortunately is almost immediately forgettable after the credits roll. The dangers were so harmless (through there are dire consequences to some of the cast) that when the lights popped on in the theater and I walked to the car with my friends, not a lot of words were really spoken about the film at all. That’s not a good thing. This film felt safe. It was scary at times, but I never felt the need to look over my shoulder or cling to the armrest of my chair.

I think I know why I felt that way. After watching Øvredal’s take on scares from multiple monsters in multiple scenarios in SCARY STORIES, I feel the director is in danger of repeating himself. In THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE, some of the most terrifying moments came from a monstrous form shambling down a dark hall towards the protagonist in a painfully slow and suspenseful manner utilizing what isn’t seen and terrifying sounds to amplify the scares. This exact same scenario is repeated four times in SCARY STORIES. A scarecrow slowly shambles down a row in a cornfield towards one kid. A creepy smiling lunatic slowly walks toward a kid in a sanitarium. The corpse looking for her toe shuffles through a hallway of a suburban kid’s home. The jangly man contorts his shape as he approaches a kid in the long hallways of an old mansion. It’s the same setup/different monster. It worked most of the time, but by the end of the film, I was wondering if Øvredal had any other tricks in his bag. Here’s hoping that the next film under Øvredal’s watch comes up with a new gimmick to cause some shivers.

The gaggle of kid actors are not horribly annoying. Little ginger gal Zoe Margaret Colletti is the strongest of the bunch and Øvredal smartly gives her most of the screentime. The rest serve their purpose but don’t really stand out as much as Coletti did. The ending is pretty convoluted and hazy as the rules of this world are played with fast and loose. It leaves the door wide open for a sequel, but honestly, I’d rather see Øvredal do something new and original than return to this well. SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is harmless horror. I’m sure those younger than I will and those who didn’t see THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE will find more to like. But for me, I felt that I had heard Øvredal’s stories one too many times in the same film for my liking. So congrats for making the big time, Mr. Øvredal. SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is a great highlight of your talents. I hope for better horrors from you in the future!