‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ (2019) Review

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a 2019 Guillermo Del Toro-produced film adaptation of the classic 1980s novels written by Alvin Schwartz. The film is directed by Andre Ovredal and written by Dan and Kevin Hageman, starring Zoe Colletti as Stella, Michael Garza as Ramon, Gabriel Rush as Auggie, and Austin Abrams as Tommy. If you read the collection of stories as a child you were quaking with fear, and I’m happy to report that this film adaptation delivers on those same chills, even if it isn’t always as satisfying as I wanted. 

Scary stories Stella.jpg

This film’s plot structure strongly resembles that of 2015’s Goosebumps, but with far more horrific imagery. Goosebumps was more fun and spooky as a kids film, while Scary Stories is still a fun kids film albeit one that will truly terrify them. If you’ve seen Goosebumps then you’ll have a general idea of where this story is headed. It’s not loaded with twists and turns, but that’s okay. The film operates similarly to a haunted maze you may find at your local theme park. Its scares are dependent on creature design and jump scares, but when the creature design is brilliant, it is very much forgiven and acceptable. The ‘Jangly Man’ is a standout as well as the infamous scarecrow, Harold.

scary stories jangly man.png

Speaking of those creatures, let’s talk about the brilliant direction from Andre Ovredal. The tension built up for each scare is perfect. He constantly rides the line of suspense and boredom, but he never dips over to the boredom side. Right when he’s got you at your most tense, he delivers with a well crafted scare. He truly knows how to work the audience’s emotions and anxiety. 

Now comes my one real gripe with the movie, the fact that this film is almost handicapped by its PG-13 rating. I understand that this is a kids film based on a series of childhood stories, but if you’ve read those stories you’ll know that they contain some truly horrific things. The movie does such a great job at building up the scares with terrifying creatures and atmosphere, but once the climactic scare of each story arrives, it doesn’t always deliver what you want. I believe this to be because of that rating. The film constantly shies away from something truly horrific in favor of a jump scare and cut, which works fine. This is less of me critcising and more of me thinking about what this could have been versus what it is: a well-executed Halloween movie that will keep children up at night and leave adults smiling from having a good time. 

scary stories tommy

The acting is serviceable to good in the film but is especially strong from Austin Abrams as Tommy. He acts as the comic relief character and he delivers many well-earned laughs. The characters are all well written and likable which certainly adds stakes to the film, as you don’t want to see them get hurt.

scary stories house

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a well-executed haunted house style thrill ride that boasts truly terrifying creatures, solid acting, and a fun atmosphere. It may not be what I fully wanted it to be, but I wholeheartedly appreciate it for what it is. A great precursor to the spooky season, the next generation has inherited a solid new sleepover movie.

7/10

What did you think about Scary Stories?  Do you think it fully delivered on its scares?

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