During Halloween of 1968, some Small-Town, Pennsylvania, teens stumble across a sinister book written in the “blood of children,” and soon the stories begin to reflect reality in a disturbing way. Directed by André Øvredal (Troll Hunter), Scary Stories proves a horror contribution fresh and thrilling enough to set it apart from the scads of Netflix shows or Stephen King adaptations flooding the mainstream.
Of course, the film wouldn’t work without A+ efforts from its young cast. Yes, these kids are great and all, but they’re also kind of one dimensional. Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush and Austin Abrams are all talented actors, but it would be nice to have seen more of their individuality shine instead of hitting plot points, beat by beat. Even when Colleti’s Stella, the deepest of the quartet, has a heart-to-heart moment with a parent, the scene becomes predictable enough to merit an eye roll. Still, it’s nice to see supporting actors like Dean Norris (Breaking Bad) and Gil Bellows (The Shawshank Redemption), even if they’re mostly reduced to clueless old dudes who seemingly only react to the insanity of their surroundings.
But this is a horror film for young adults, and the horror sequences do make the film worth its admission, regardless of your age. Schwartz's short stories shine as the written words literally come to life, and the once-brief fables we read as children at night now become haunting portends for unfortunate characters. Scarecrows animate, cheeks burst with spiders, toes go missing and hands emerge from under the bed. Gone are the days of the cheap jump scares of tamer teen flicks—some of this stuff is actually skin crawling and resonates with the viewer well after the film ends.
Guillermo del Toro is credited as a producer and writer, but his creativity only feels present in creepy moments now and then, his brilliance as an unconventional scribe shining through, though not powerfully. It's also obvious distributor Lionsgate wants to build a franchise with this first film, which takes away all hope of a sound and noteworthy conclusion.
Regardless, the tension is palpable throughout and the look of the set pieces, the special effects and the sound design all do their jobs to the umpteenth degree. It's also refreshing to hear lesser-heard songs from '68, with a special mention to Donovan's "Season of the Witch" as an excellent contribution.
There are still a few weeks of summer left, but Scary Stories does its job complementing the cool nights the lead into the fall. Before we know it, the Season of the Witch will be upon us once more, most certainly the most wonderful time of the year.
+Tense and surprisingly frightening sequences; killer atmosphere
-Too much foreshadowing of future movies; just give us an ending, please
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Directed by Øvredal
With Colletti, Garza, Rush, Abrams, Norris and Bellows
Regal 14, Violet Crown, PG-13, 111 min.