Thursday, 22 August 2019

Review: Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (VAGUE SPOILERS)
Cert: 15 / 107 mins / Dir. André Øvredal / Trailer

So. it's 1968 in small town Pennsylvania at Halloween. A quartet of teenage misfits manage to evade a group of jock-bullies after trick-or-treating and take a detour by the old abandoned house which belonged to the local turn-of-the-century child murderer. Within its crumbling walls they come across a cursed book, and over the nights which follow the team - and their close associates - are picked off one by one as the stories of their supernaturally gruesome deaths appear magically in its pages.


So. What begins feeling for all the world like a Stephen King fan film*1 gradually becomes a quasi-anthology as we see a handful of creepy stories enacted. That the characters themselves realise exactly what's happening despite being powerless to change it gives the whole thing a feeling of Final Destination by way of Goosebumps. With posessed scarecrows, zombies and spiders this is classic fare, and it's definitely more an alt-teen adventure than a flat out horror, although the film is all the better for that.

The central cast of Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Austin Zajur and Gabriel Rush are all solid enough individually but become more than the sum of their parts to make things really fizz. The effects shots, while well-executed, are relatively few and far between so the rest is down to good old-fashioned visual storytelling and the tradition of the campfire yarn. And while the costumes and sets display a suitably vintage sensibility, the production and scripting have a distinctly post-modern air*2. The film's plot is not meant to be taken at face value, although the distinct themes of denial and survivor's guilt are plain enough for all to see. Scary Stories works because of its darkly playful structure. We're never expected to believe these events are actually happening as we see them - only that urban legends exist and people of all ages believe them for different reasons.


There are a few scenes of Quiet/Quiet/BANG!™ which the movie is otherwise much better than, and I'm deducting points for the third-act ritual of poking about through hospital archives and newspaper cuttings, and also the shoehorning in of The Mystical Old Black Lady™. Those are all cheap tropes which Blumhouse have flogged to death in recent years and they certainly don't need to be in here.

But the zenith of Scary Stories is far more imaginative than most of the film's genre-contemporaries, with an almost Whovian edge (and not just because Colletti's part was almost written for Carey Mulligan in Blink-mode).

While the first part of the title may be disingenuous to all but the younger audience members, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is an enjoyable movie that many of its classmates would do well to learn from.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Ring, Final Destination, Urban Legend, IT.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is.

Apart from anything else, you'll need blackout-curtains if you're planning to watch this in your living room

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It's worth watching again, but I'm not sure how much replay value there'll be overall.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Let's not go mad here.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Going off the judgement of at least one of my esteemed reviewing colleagues, that's entirely possible.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Zoe Margaret Colletti is in this, and she was in the 2014 remake of Annie along with Rose 'Dormé' Byrne.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 In all honesty, when I first saw the trailer for this I thought it was for IT Chapter 2. The promo-reel opens with a geeky girl cycling around a sepia-tinged small town, then four teenagers standing in front of a dilapidated house with one of them in a clown outfit. I mean come on mate. [ BACK ]

*2 Despite a marked lack of profanity in this 15-rated screamfest - and well done to screenwriters Dan and Kevin Hagerman for avoiding that easy pitfall. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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