Movie Review: "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark"
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
It is Halloween night, and for one group of friends, it may be their last Halloween together. Chuck (Austin Zajur) plans to get back at a bully. Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), on the other hand, just want to have a fun night. However, they come across a new kid in town, Ramon (Michael Garza), so they decide to bring him to the town’s old haunted house.
The house once belonged to the Bellows, and there is a tragic story surrounding their daughter, Sarah. She was abused, neglected, and outcasted by her own family until she eventually killed herself inside the home. As the story goes, if you are in the house and ask Sarah Bellows to tell you a story, it will be the last story you ever hear. The kids do not have an encounter with Sarah Bellows, but Stella comes across an old book, one that Sarah Bellows used to write her horror stories. Stella decides to take the book, but when new stories begin to write themselves, taking the book begins to seem like a bad idea. These new stories appear suddenly, are written in blood, and they all come true. To make things worse, the victims of each new story is one of the kids who entered the house with Stella.
The Pros & Cons
The Book (+3pts)
The Stories (+4pts)
Silly Monsters (-8pts)
The Kids (+3pts)
The Ending (-5pts)
Pro: The Book (+3pts)
One of the better parts of this movie was its premise. Sarah Bellow’s book was haunted, and would essentially write horror stories by itself. The catch was that the stories always had one of Stella’s friends as its victim. The book wrote its stories in real-time, meaning the story would be appearing as the events were happening in the real world.
I liked the idea of the book and how it revealed the next story, as it was happening. It was an effective way to keep all of the characters in the loop, whenever one of their friends were in danger. This kept all of the characters involved in each story, no matter where they were at the time, which also meant that the book was effective at ramping up the intensity. I liked the idea of the book, but the filmmakers could have done a better job of writing the movie around it.
Con: Exposition (-3pts)
The writers of this movie clearly ran into a bit of a dilemma. They wanted to tell Sarah Bellows’ story to the audience, but this story took place a long time after her death. What was their solution? To just have the kids of this story deliver a ton of exposition to the audience. The filmmaker’s solution was for the kids, who grew up in the town, to explain Sarah Bellows’ whole story to Ramon, the new kid.
The problem was that the kids explained her story in great detail, far greater detail than they should have known. You know what I knew about the creepy house in the town that I grew up in? I knew that it was a creepy house, and that was the extent of it. My issue was not just that this was slightly unrealistic, it was also that it meant the characters were giving long explanations, which was boring and felt like lazy filmmaking. Instead of having the kids deliver so much exposition, the filmmakers could have had the kids uncover Sarah’s story as the film progressed, which would have added a mysterious element to the movie and would have been much more interesting. Another option would have been to show Sarah Bellows’ story in a flashback sequence, which would have been more entertaining. Really either of these options would have been better than the exposition that we got.
Pro: The Stories (+4pts)
I already mentioned liking the book, but the stories were something different. Each story was a different, unique, horror story. They each did a good job of getting me hooked, keeping me wondering how the story would play out, and they were each memorable due to their unique nature. This was partially related to unique monsters, and partially related to where each of the kids were when the stories began.
Each story felt very different, partially due to where the kids were at the time, and partially due to what the kids knew about what was going on. With each new story, the group of kids were becoming progressively alert regarding the stories. Each story was unique and interesting, but due to the characters learning along the way, it felt like each story was a necessary puzzle piece in the larger story. There were areas of this movie that needed work, but I thought the filmmakers did a good job of working these interesting sub-stories into the movie in a way that felt both smooth and natural. It definitely did not feel like a random collection of horror stories, like it very easily could have been.
Con: Silly Monsters (-8pts)
This was easily the weakest part of this movie. The movie’s premise was interesting, and the stories were strong, but the monsters in them came across as silly. This was unfortunate, because the movie had potential. That being said, and without giving anything away, the monsters in this movie will make you chuckle more than they will make you afraid.
I found it weird when I sat down to watch this movie, because a few parents had brought their children into the theater. Maybe I missed the memo that this was supposed to be a kid’s movie, I honestly do not know if that was the intended demographic (although the movie was PG-13). For the kids seeing this movie, it was good that the monsters were so silly. For the young audience members (they were children, I am not even exaggerating), this movie could effectively serve as an intro into horror movies, as it very much has a horror vibe, but is not going to scare them. For the adults in the audience, these monsters were definitely not effective at delivering any sort of horror.
Pro: The Kids (+3pts)
One element of the movie that the filmmakers got right was the relationship between the kids. Part of this can be contributed to the decent writing that developed the friendship between these characters. Another part of this can be contributed to the strong chemistry between the actors in these roles. Together, the combination made for a group of friends that were easy to get invested in.
I liked the friendship that was developed between Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush), and Chuck (Austin Zajur). I also enjoyed the dynamic that the new kid, Ramon (Michael Garza), had with this group, and I thought each of the actors in these roles had good chemistry together. Both Ruth (Chuck’s sister) and Tommy (the bully) were one dimensional characters, but they served their purpose and the actors in these roles (Natalie Ganzhorn and Austin Abrams, respectively) played their parts well. Most of the characters were written well, the rest were one-dimensional, yet effective, and the cast was filled with actors who delivered exactly what the movie needed them to.
Con: The Ending (-5pts)
The ending of this movie was weak for a couple of reasons. The first reason was how sappy it was. I do not want to give anything away, but I thought it was a bit too easy and too touchy-feely. It was the kind of ending that you would expect from a kid’s movie, the kind of ending where the protagonists have a moment of bravery and try to defeat the villain through honesty. Did this strategy succeed? You will need to see the movie to find out. However, their plan was as unbelievable as it was sappy, and it did not work for me.
The second reason that the ending did not work was the semi-cliffhanger that the filmmakers ended the movie with. They clearly wanted this movie to lead to sequels, so they left this movie open-ended. Rather than give this movie a proper conclusion, and setup the sequel during the sequel, the filmmakers forced it into the ending of this movie. Cliffhangers are fine for movies that are set in obvious franchises, or movies whose stories call for a sequel. However, ending a movie like this, with a bit of a cliffhanger, does nothing but take away from this movie’s conclusion, especially considering a sequel to this movie is not a sure thing.
Grade: D+ (69pts)
This movie’s premise definitely had potential. A haunted book that writes stories by itself. It does not sound too bad, but those stories come true, and involve monsters who come to life and hunt the main characters of this movie. It was an interesting premise, but the execution could have been better. The filmmakers ended up making the monsters silly, and resorted to lazy writing for setting up the premise and for the conclusion of the story.
Almost all of the monsters were made to be far more silly than they were scary. This sort of undermined the horror, and made the stories much less thrilling. The filmmakers also used a lot of unrealistic exposition to set up the movie, and used an unrealistically sappy ending to conclude it. Fortunately, the characters were mostly developed well (those who were not were simple and effective side characters) and the entire cast did a good job in their respective roles. At the end of the day, I thought the movie’s weaknesses out-weighed its strengths, with the biggest weakness being that it was a “horror” movie that seemed to be afraid to deliver any real horror. Let me just leave you with this: there were young children (plural) in the audience of this horror movie who were laughing at the monsters. If you have monsters that cannot even scare children (let alone make them laugh), that is not a good sign for your horror movie.