Directed by: André Øvredal
Written by: Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Guillermo del Toro, Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan
Synopsis: A group of teens face their fears in order to save their lives.
Starring: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Austin Abrams & Dean Norris
Runtime: 100 minutes
Inevitably every year a handful of film critics will tiredly refer to horror movies released around Halloween as either a “trick” or a “treat.” I’d like to officially get ahead of the tradition by declaring André Øvredal’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark a treat, albeit not one that should be so freely passed out to younger moviegoers. Despite the seemingly tame PG-13 rating, there are some legitimately intense sequences throughout. Parental discretion is definitely advised.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is based on Alvin Schwartz’s collection of scary short stories, which are intended to introduce younger readers to horror. Director André Øvredal’s (The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Trollhunter) film serves much the same function with its noticeable lack of heinous gore or gratuitous violence. Instead of individually retelling those stories on screen like a typical anthology flick, this Scary Stories possesses a single through line. We follow a small band of Pennsylvanian friends who, over the course of a few days in 1968, come face-to-face with real-life nightmares conjured up by a vengeful spirit with supernatural storytelling abilities. Those of you who read the source material may recall zombie-like corpses, zit-dwelling arachnids, gelatinous monstrosities and fragmented humanoids who can fall a part and rebuild themselves on a whim.
As unsettling as all that sounds on paper (or in this case the screen), the phenomenal hair, makeup and costumes realize every last decaying detail. You can practically smell the rot undoubtedly ruminating off each ghoulish foe. It’s all part of a larger Halloween aesthetic that Øvredal expertly maintains for most of the movie. If you’re a fan of the Season of the Witch, then you’ll feel right at home here.
The grander secret to the this film’s success is that we care about these kids. Each fright is played for genuine emotion and not just a simple thrill. There are consequences to the horrors that unfold and we feel them because the characters feel them. Naturally, this wouldn’t be the case if the performances weren’t so convincing. Zoe Margaret Colletti and Austin Zajur are the standouts of the group.
Øvredal sprinkles in a fair share of allusions and nods to classic horror films for the astute viewer to appreciate. Equally peppered in throughout are references to the time, most prominently Richard Nixon’s re-election and the Vietnam War. The script (co-written by producer Guillermo del Toro) attempts to thematically tie the issues of the day into what’s going on right now, but those ties are quickly abandoned.
If you’re looking for something spooky to start a future horror lover on but don’t feel they’re ready for the big R rating, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a solid option (although my earlier warning for much smaller children still applies). Even if you’ve been watching scary movies pure whole life, there’s still plenty here to appreciate and enjoy.
⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2 (out of 5)
Have you had a chance yet to check out Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? If so, what did you think? Were you as impressed as I was? Jump down to the comments below and let me know what you thought of this movie!