Cast: Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur
Director: Andre Ovredal
Horror movies have been quite polarizing this year. We’ve had more than our fair share of critical duds this year while Us and Midsommar seem to be the only two major releases to receive near-universal critical. So, where does Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark land on that spectrum? Considering this is a PG-13 rated horror movie, it really does make the most of its premise and provides a solid level of scares and entertainment for 108 minutes. Sure the movie is pretty campy at times, but the special effects and overall narrative help Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark emerge as one of the summer’s biggest surprises.
The film follows a group of teenagers and their various activities on Halloween. When these kids visit a haunted house in town, they discover the book of Sarah Bellows, the girl who lived there decades ago. When they realize the stories in the book come true and that new ones are being written about the group, the kids decide they need to solve the mystery of Sarah Bellows once and for all to stop the stories from hurting anyone else. The main thing that stands out about this movie is the special effects during any sequence with a monster or horror. Even though Guillermo del Toro didn’t direct this movie, you can tell where his touch as a producer came in as these scenes feel like something you would see in The Shape of Water. The first instance of this is particularly graphic and unsettling, but that sets the tone for the rest of the film and it doesn’t pull any punches throughout the movie. Most PG-13 movies can’t reach this level of fear without using cheap tactics and jump scares, and while those are certainly present in this movie, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark doesn’t rely on them as much as these movies usually do. With that in mind, there are still elements of this movie that prevent it from being a truly great movie. For one thing, the story and dialogue are campy and ridiculous for most of the film. Considering this movie isn’t exactly set up in the most realistic universe, it’s easy to give most of these moments a pass since they’re far from the worst that the genre has to offer. That being said, lines like, “you don’t read the book, the book reads you,” are still incredibly corny and made my eyes roll to the back of my head. Outside of the dialogue, the acting can be pretty hit or miss during the 108 minute runtime. When you have a cast made up of predominantly teenage actors, most of them will make mistakes just due to a lack of experience. This isn’t necessarily their fault, they’re just at a point where they don’t know how to do any better. A director can only do so much with young actors and it’s only a matter of time before they really come into their own. None of the actors are particularly good or bad and most of these scenes are just flat. When all of this is considered, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a scary and entertaining yet flawed PG-13 movie that should still be able to captivate most audiences.
Overall, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is essentially a cut-rate PG-13 version of It, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Considering the parameters of this movie as well as the target audience, things could have ended up looking significantly worse than what we got, so it’s really a testament to the talent behind the scenes that we got something competent. For a summer horror release, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark captures the attention of the crowd and shows us just how scary some of these monsters can be on screen.
Overall Score: 7.5/10