Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Aug 10, 2019 17:18:55 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Aug 10, 2019 17:18:55 GMT -5
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)
Directed by: André Øvredal
Directed by: André Øvredal
The most negative detail about Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark I can mention is its release date. Whoever thought it ideal to release this film amidst the dog days of summer, when in most parts of the United States, it's 90 degrees in the shade, versus the tail-end of September or beginning of October, where it would've most likely enjoyed a more fruitful run for spooky season, should be locked in a red room for a full day. But I digress. This is a satisfying frightfest, effective enough for pre-teens and teenagers, and liable to be appreciated by ardent horror fans who recall the days of sifting through stacks of library books looking for their next scare.
It wasn't until recently that I realized that the Scary Stories trilogy, written by the late Alvin Schwartz, was much older than I had previously thought. I remember Schwartz's anthologies quite well, from worn paperback copies lurking in the classrooms of my elementary school teachers to reading some excerpts from them myself. The first installment was released in 1981, with the sequels following in 1984 and 1991, respectively. This brings me to another point: why wait so long to make an adaptation of this beloved, multi-generational series? Like Captain Underpants, Ratchet & Clank, and the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog flick, these are all films that would've went gangbusters in the early aughts had studios not sat on the rights and screenplays long enough for cobwebs to form.
The setup involves a gaggle of high school kids in the small, rural town of Mill Valley, Pennsylvania in 1968. It's Halloween, of course, posters of Richard Nixon cover the businesses downtown and TVs are tuned to coverage of the Vietnam War, to set the tone. We follow Stella (Zoe Colletti), who is on her way to be a Rebekah McKendry-esque figure with her vast knowledge of horror, Augie (Gabriel Rush), and Chuck (Austin Zajur), whose minds are on one thing: getting back at the school bully, Tommy (Austin Abrams), with a vicious prank. Along the way, they meet Ramón (Michael Garza), and eventually stumble upon a haunted house with a checkered history involving a woman who was kept hidden from the world by her family. The woman, known as Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard), still has a presence over Mill Valley as a ghost who haunts not only the home but others by way of a mysterious book which sets unfortunate events into motion.
It was wise for the cornucopia of writers (Dan Hageman and Kevin Hageman with screenplay credits and Guillermo del Toro, Patrick Melton, and The Collector's Marcus Dunstan) to focus on one fleshed out story, with familiar monsters and themes from Schwartz's anthology as opposed to try and hamfist six or seven stories into one feature. This allows for a more refined approach when it comes to humanizing the characters, particularly Ramón and Stella, who strike an innocuous, romantic chemistry predicated upon both feeling a lack of belonging in their present situations. The script is paced with the kind of energy typical of Goosebumps, where the zeal of the young teens at the center of this madness are at a race-against-time in order to save their friends before the next one is claimed by Sarah Bellows' book.
Cinematographer Roman Osin (who worked with director André Øvredal on The Autopsy of Jane Doe) works with a variety of murky but applicable color schemes, cloaking the monsters in earthy green and blue tones or adapting the settings to evoke a color palette suitable for the monsters. It feels very immersive at times, despite maybe one too many jump-scares, and Osin's prowess with creating a dark atmosphere without muddying it deserves ample praise.
It's interesting to note just how far the brothers Hageman went in articulating a sixties culture rocked by political unrest and racism. Ramón is frequently met with derogatory slurs from cops and classmates alike, and Nixon even gets some not-so-subtle passing jabs from supporting characters. It's an obvious ploy to connect today's fearful culture and contempt for the sitting president with yesterday's misgivings, and while it isn't driven home as well as it might've been had there been a more concretized vision from a singular writer (as opposed to five people handling the story, all imposing their own edits and direction), it should merit points from those who like to criticize apolitical material for being just that.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark plays like a darker Goosebumps, boasting scarier villains and a fleshed-out social backdrop, with a dash of Are You Afraid of the Dark? when it comes to evoking that expected humor when it comes to "kiddie horror." If there were ever a flick that proved one shouldn't immediately sneer at a PG-13 horror film, Øvredal's valiant effort should raise the bar and, as I said in my review of Rob Letterman's Goosebumps, finally give some credibility to a genre that's, as of late, been cruelly sidelined.
Starring: Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, and Lorraine Toussaint. Directed by: André Øvredal.