Review: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

SS_05759 Photo credit: George Kraychyk Austin Zajur in SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK to be released by CBS Films and Lionsgate.

Teenagers have been a fixture in adult horror films for decades. Finally, stories made for kids have been adapted into a horror film for kids. Director Andre Ovredal brings Alvin Schwartz’s collection of short horror stories, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, to life.

The story takes place in the small town of Mill Valley in 1968 where a group of kids go into a haunted house on Halloween night. This isn’t just any house, there’s a haunted story about one of the home’s former residents. Sarah Bellows was rumored to have killed children. While locked in the basement, Sarah told scary stories to kids on the other side of the wall. As the tales goes, kids vanished from the town without a trace and Sarah was blamed.

Once in the house, Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) takes Sarah’s book of stories home with her. It’s not long before Stella and her group realizes new stories are being written in the book and those ghoulish tales are coming to life. As the deadly book continues to write stories about Stella and her friends, the group searches for what happened to Sarah before they face a horrific fate.

Scary Stories is a PG-13 horror that manages to tell an entertaining story with genuine scary moments and tension filled situations. This is due to the film being a bizarre mashup of IT (2017), the Final Destination franchise, and The Grudge, with zero blood/gore while maintaining  all the heart-pounding tension and chills those films offer.

The film uses familiar stories like “The Big Toe”, “The Red Spot”, and “Harold” to haunt the group of unsuspecting kids. As the book writes the stories, the kids are being visited by whatever ghoulish creation or terrifying scenario being written. The Final Destination style of horror storytelling is a brilliant way to incorporate these stories and make the danger feel real. One-by-one the kids face a different unnerving story and try to find a way to escape before it’s too late.

The glue of the film is the core group of kids lead by Zoe Margaret Colletti. In a very IT fashion, a ragtag group of kids with distinctly different personalities must band together to defeat an unstoppable evil. The young actors aren’t asked to do much, but they do very well with what’s asked – be scared and make people laugh. Michael Garaz is charming as Ramon, but the scene stealer is Auztin Zajur as Chuck. He gets a bulk of the comedic moments and gets to be the common sense person in the group.

Much like The Grudge, the spirit isn’t bound by our reality. This was a smart way to put “death scenes” in a PG-13 film and have them framed as kids disappearing and not killed. Placing the film in 1968 means no cell phones so these kids were stuck fighting evil the old fashioned way – trapped in a library like first year law students.

The best sequence in the film is The Big Toe – it accurately sums up what this film is and what it hopes to accomplish. That sequence could be extracted from the film as a standalone short story. Auggie (Gabriel Rush) quickly goes from skeptical, to grossed out, to absolutely terrified in the span of a few minutes. It’s a genuinely creepy moment that pulls you into the story and ends with a rush. The funniest sequence is “The Red Room”. It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. Everyone sees it coming, but there’s nothing they can do. You almost fell bad for the kid.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a surprisingly fun addition to the horror genre. Even when kids are being haunted by their nightmares, the film is charming and entertaining. It may not give you nightmares but will provide all the jumps and scares that make horror films so much fun.

Grade: B+