Adapted from a children’s book and helped along by a screen story from Oscar winning director Guillermo del Toro, is this horror that says “some stories hurt, some stories heal”, but does this one scare or bore you?
In the late 60’s on Halloween night, a trio of friends prank a local jock as payback, which has them bumping into a new town dweller. As a foursome they check out a haunted house supposedly stalked by the presence of Sarah Bellows; a spirit that told stories to children who eventually wound up dead. After Stella (Zoe Colletti) takes her book from the house, a new set of stories appear in blood and spell literal death for them all.
Andre Ovredal, director of ‘Trollhunter’ grapples with more larger than life beasties and does so in a way that keeps the level of misty-filled, Thriller-esque paranormal chills at a steady pace. The main issue is that the film with a UK 15 rating feels neither approachable enough to link it back to the 12-13 year old-focused audience of the source material nor terrifying enough to be a great horror.
Perhaps with a toned down treatment this movie could have been a more fun and friendly Gothic ghost story, akin to the wonder of a cartoon show I grew up watching called ‘Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids’, but it veers off into ‘The Conjuring’ territory with names like the Pale Lady and the Jangly Man, who are nowhere near as scary as the film possibly thinks they are.
There are good moments where the tension reaches a fever pitch and a general old school haunted house vibe works nicely as if this creepy collection of tales bound in a dusty book could be narrated to you at bedtime but the reliance on the dull jump-scare motif and a dependence on off putting CGI severely yanks you out of any possible immersion that is built up just before the monster rears its ugly head. None more so than a really nicely set up sequence in ‘The Red Spot’ which sees a gross pimple on someone swell and redden with a nasty surprise inside, the visceral yuck nature of it is nightmarish and unsettling but is ruined by a tumble of computer graphics that makes the shivers seem like a distant memory.
‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ is a fine film with bonafide moments of horror and it does indeed hold your interest for the duration but like an author bursting with a golden idea to start, yet lacking a solid middle or end, this story begins sagging with characters devoid of major likeability and it cannot quite lift itself out of the slump.