Directed by André Øvredal
Starring Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Dean Norris
There isn’t a whole lot of meat to this boney horror film, which aims to startle more than scare. Set in 1968 in a small, sleepy American town where some kids unearth supernatural spookiness from an old haunted book, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark may not be based on a Stephen King novel, but it plays out remarkably (or unremarkably) like one, giving off a sense of over-familiarity.
The short story collections it’s based on gets a clever adaptation: instead of directly bringing Alvin Schwartz’s horror stories to the big screen, they’re part of a self-writing book that a group of teenagers find, that once belonged to a murderous woman, which details and acts out the deaths and spooky supernatural encounters of each of these kids, one by one.
With scarecrows, dismembered body parts, infected pimples, and zombified monsters (with interchangeable body parts), Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark isn’t short on offering up nasty and gross horror content, but these key ingredients are prepared in the same way as the plethora of similar horror films to come out recently (namely Stephen King adaptations). There isn’t much consistency to ground the supernatural horror, it just comes and goes as it pleases, with nearly all of the film’s frights merely startling jump-scares. And despite the title, the main story, revolving around these teenagers investigating the truth behind the book’s author, is hardly scary at all and will likely bore most teenage audiences.
Some moments are worked on with more dedication for this genre, revving up the tension to an unbearable degree, such as one unnervingly quiet moment under a bed, as well as the only horror scene that gets all its scariness not from loud noises and sudden spookiness, but from its slow, crawling, inescapable strangeness.
It has fun with its spooky scenes, with the creepy build-up and inevitable jump-scare, though it exhausts itself and loses steam before the underwhelming climax. This film can still work for younger viewers (though not too young) who may still be susceptible to jump-scares, but for older more seasoned horror fans, this will feel like an unmemorable story.