For many 90s kids, hearing that a beloved childhood classic was coming to the big screen was cause for excitement. But for some reason, this one stayed in the dark.
Based on the horror Anthology children's book series of the same name by Alvin Schwartz, "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" seemed to have an easy pass to go the “Goosebumps” route and make something broad and easily digestible for it's on-paper demographic, but instead attempts something far more novel, bold and ultimately, effective.
Aiming to celebrate the spirit of the books rather than adapt any individual narrative, the film tells the story of 3 high schoolers and a traveler on Halloween night that break into the home of the tragic Sarah Bellows, a woman mythologized through folktales of their small town as a storyteller who told the children of the town scary stories around the time of its founding.
When the children discover Bellows’ storybook and find themselves being written into the more famous plots from them, they find themselves in a struggle for their lives to uncover the mystery behind bellows death before they all meet their own tragic ends at the hands of her horrifically literary concoctions.
The cast of relative unknowns actually do a fairly solid job holding the film and it's uniquely politically accurate 1960s period piece setting together, coming across as sincerely awkward, excited, terrified, and relatively endearing as they struggle to piece together the horror they found themselves in with just enough composure to not be unlikable. The true star of the show however, is André Øvredal’s direction.
A veteran of blending tropes of horror and thriller storytelling together with palatable doses of relatable situational comedy and dark humor, through underappreciated classics such as “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” and “Trollhunter,” Øvredal proves himself not only to be a master of suspense and atmosphere, but a further expert in weaving said aforementioned elements into a compelling and cohesive narrative with surprising amounts of thematic weight behind it that can occasionally slow down but never truly runs out of gas as it effectively utilizes every second of runtime possible to its advantage.
In an effort to push a potential franchise the film does falter a bit towards the end, as the edges of the previously unyielding terrors begin to soften and the ending create a hook for a potential sequel that is unnecessary.
These issues however are are generally small Potatoes in the grand scheme of a movie that is solid diverting fun at worst and a potential horror cult classic for a new generation of young horror film fans in those fleeting moments when every bit of it is firing on all cylinders.
4 out of 5
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.