19th Aug2019

‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Lorraine Toussaint, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Austin Abrams, Kathleen Pollard | Written by Guillermo del Toro, Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman | Directed by André Øvredal

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André Øvredal’s film is the adaption of writer Alvin Schwartz’ novel(s) of the same name. A series that is a cross between Goosebumps and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark aimed primarily at YA audiences, but does not shy away from the horror. The influences and intention of what the film wants to build are on the surface intriguing; however, the final product is an underwhelming exploit that flounders all its potential with a bumbling and underwhelming execution of tension and atmosphere.

The influence of Andy Muschietti’s 2017 blockbuster horror hit It has changed the face of horror in the mainstream forever. Such an influence has never been more evident in the Guillermo del Toro written, and André Øvredal directed Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The aesthetic and narrative have directly been influenced by the Warner Bros mega-hit within the genre. Precisely with what aesthetic and content such a film can get away with against the MPAA and still be a highly successful venture. A factor that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark sadly fails to exploit.

Øvredal’s film has its moments, in particular, the production design and cinematography by David Brisbin and Roman Osin, respectively that look delightful on screen. The scale and political subtext of 1960s Middle America acts as a perfect setting for the unfolding events, but sadly the setting is not integrated enough into the narrative and feels implemented purely to avoid modern-day genre conventions, of which will work as a slight bonus if the viewer indulges in a vast amount of Horror and wants to see something different, but it is not as integral as it could and probably should be.

The screenplay by Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman with a touch from del Toro is inviting and immersive with the characters written. The resulting performances while often void of weight bring high intensity to the course of the feature. That being said, the group dynamic, on the whole, does not quite grasp a natural and organic friendship level that comes across realistic, resulting in the foremost attribute that evokes hollowness and unfilled development. A factor that ultimately affects the overall engagement with the film due to the performers not necessarily having a great deal of depth to explore and therefore be employed on screen for the viewer to find captivating.

However, the biggest failing of André Øvredal’s film is the execution of the scares. For a film titled Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark it is not very spooky of in fact scary per se. The scares gravely disappoint within this whole venture with ridiculously weak iconography and underwhelming tension with lacklustre sequences that do not capture a single second of ghoulish atmosphere. The camera holds well, and it is clear there is a conscious decision to craft tension; however, it is all undone when the scares ramp up, and the reveal is delivered in a resulting creature that is a cross between Mr Blobby and Andy from Little Britain.

If a horror film erupts a crowd into fits of giggles and not screams of terror, it is apparent that something is not right, and with every climax to each story delivering a continuously unintentional comedy show it rips out every second of the atmosphere from the picture, and what remains is a dull and tedious experience that had so much more to offer yet falls into the territory of a horror that purports to be different yet makes every conventional mistake possible.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark comes to UK cinemas on August 23rd.

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