Stories can hurt, stories can heal, and if told enough can become very real. This is the lesson at the core of this grim fairy tale. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is about a group of teens who uncover a tome that is chock-full of terrors.
Going into Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark I was cautiously optimistic. I haven’t had a decent run of films recently but when I hear horror and Guillermo Del Toro I get giddy. The man knows how to do compelling horror. So as he adapts the bestselling book series into a film there is a sense of true adoration for author Alvin Schwartz.
What works for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is its young cast of newcomers. These actors are convincing and integral as a doorway into this nightmare realm. Best friends Stella (Zoe Colletti), August (Gabriel Rush), and Chuck (Austin Zajur) meet wanderer Ramón (Michael Garza) on Halloween night. They hit it off and as a way to celebrate All Hallows Eve they show off their local haunted house to Ramón.
While there they happen across a book from an infamous murderer. Stella brings it home being inspired by its macabre tales as she herself is something of a writer. One day though after the book is taken from the house a local bully goes missing under mysterious circumstances. Stella notices that the M.O. of the missing person is eerily similar to a story about a scary scarecrow. She doesn’t want to believe it but as the events begin to escalate to terrifying degrees there is clearly something ominous going on, and there’s a ticking clock counting down to her, and her friends, possible doom.
A scary story indeed
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a chilling experience. Not quite as scary as I had hoped but damn, I was chilled to my bone. The film is set up with each “scary story” being an event. Every 15 minutes or so Stella and the gang have to worry about what the book will throw at them next. What the book throws at them are a collection of horrifying monsters. Each new horror is genuinely terrifying. To me, there is a horror for every member of the audience. I was with a group of four and each of us had a different story that scared us. Mine involved a pale lady and a red room and it will stick with me for a long time.
The cinematography, score, and visuals on show are brilliant. They are a combination of practical effects and CGI with a heart-thumping soundscape surrounding them. A particular scene at the beginning of the film involves a character choking and to simulate the claustrophobia the character must be feeling the camera pushes in close and follows his every stressed breath. It’s effective, gripping, and most importantly, horrifying.
There are some issues that drag the film down, unfortunately. The dialogue at times can be quite bland and some of the characters come across as annoying clichés, in particular, young Chuck who is given the brunt of the lame dialogue. The most damning issue of the film is sadly its ending. After all the grim and monstrous acts in the film the end feels somewhat neutered.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is Goosebumps for those who want a more intense experience and that’s what is so compelling about it. It’s not a perfect film but it’s still a ton of fun for horror fans. Bring your friends and get ready to see a scary story in the dark.
Stay tuned to Scannain to see if I can have more good times at the cinema. I know I’ll be hoping this keeps up.