Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a tween horror set in small town America in 1968. It points back to a girl from the late 19th century who’s out for revenge.
It all starts on Halloween night when Stella Nicholls (Zoe Margaret Colletti) isn’t keen to go trick-or-treating. Talked into doing so by her two male classmates – Chuck Steinberg (Austin Zajur) and Auggie Hilderbrandt (Gabriel Rush) – they quickly run into trouble courtesy of taking on a reckless bully, Tommy (Austin Abrams). Soon they are running from him and his mates and end up sheltering in the car of a stranger, Ramón Morales (Michael Garza), with whom Stella has an immediate connection.
Both are drawn to scary movies and Stella decides to lead Ramón and her mates to a large rundown old house said to be haunted. It’s where a girl named Sarah Bellows was maltreated and as legend has it ran amok as a result … writing down her stories. Now the quartet has woken the sleeping giant and, as the expression goes, there will be hell to pay. New chapters are being written into Sarah’s book of woe, stories involving the four friends, the sister of one of them and the bully. Death is in the air, but it appears to be too late to put the Genie back in the bottle.
Directed by André Øvredal and written by Dan Hageman and Kevin Hageman, the screen story is, among other, by Guillermo Del Toro based on a book series by Alvin Schwartz. There are relatively few scares early on, with the grotesqueness of the conjured-up creatures growing as we reach the climax. Still, in relative terms the frights are reasonably sedate, even though I appreciated the idea of a book coming to life; with new stories being created.
Stella Nicholls was arguably the best of the youngsters and I quite liked the burgeoning relationship between her and Ramón Morales. Both have a backstory, which plays out during the course of the film.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark plays to its demographic, which is fine. It’s in the Goosebumps space, but doesn’t offer a great deal for adults.
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.