Now I’m not really familiar with the Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark series. It wasn’t really a thing when I was growing up and I don’t think I’ve seen copies of the books until the film was announced. I was intrigued by the film though due to the involvement of Guillermo Del Toro and the fact it was being directed by André Øvredal, who previously directed the excellent Troll Hunter and, whilst I haven’t seen The Autopsy of Jane Doe, I’ve heard good things about it. So I decided to give this a chance, and I found it to be a pretty decent horror film.
The film takes place in 1968 and revolves around a group of teenagers who, on Halloween night, make their way into their town’s haunted house, finding a book of ghost stories left by Sarah Bellows, the ghost said to be haunting the house. After one of the group, Stella, takes the book, she finds that the stories in the book are still being written, noticing that they are now including the people who were in the house that night. What’s worse though is that the events in the stories are actually happening and it’s up to Stella and her friends to figure out how to stop the stories being written before they all due. Now the story itself is fairly standard, but that’s kind of the point of the film. From what I know about the books series, it is a collection of classic horror stories, the kind that people have been telling around campfires for decades and the film tries to give these stories an overarching narrative, kind of like combining a portmanteau horror with a full narrative horror. This technique doesn’t 100% work as it leads to a bit of a messy structure in the first half of the film but it allows the film to have the right tone. I also didn’t mind the use of jumpscares here as much as in other films as the jumpscares add to the tone of the film, which is more playful than other horror films recently. There are also decent elements of the film related to the nature of stories and how they have the power to hurt and heal people and the use of stories as a weapon and to tell truth. I did find the 1968 setting a bit distracting. Whilst there are some good elements in terms of contrasting the horror of the stories to the horrors of the time, mainly the election of Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War, I do think this element of the film could have been explored more.
The performances meanwhile are the right tone for the film. Zoe Colletti as Stella is solid, showing her own fascination with horror and her growing fear over what is happening, along with her guilt over her mum leaving, which she blames on herself, with this side of the performance aided by strong chemistry she has with Dean Norris, who plays her dad. There are also solid performances from Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur and Natalie Ganzhorn, who all know the right tone to pitch their performances, making their characters engaging in the world of the film.
The best elements of the film though come in the technical department. Øvredal and DP Roman Osin do a great job at building the atmosphere in the film, aided by excellent production design and a great use of lighting and shadow. There’s this feeling of unease and tension that is created throughout the film and adds to the creepy vibe of the film. This is aided by the excellent work done for the monsters, being the right mix of practical and CG effects with the monster designs themselves being brilliant, bringing across this classic monster feel whilst also accurately reflecting the drawings used in the books, based on the drawings that I’ve seen anyway. The sound design meanwhile, whilst typical for films of this type through the use of quiet to heighten the use of jumpscares, is still effective, mainly through the distinctive noises, or lack thereof, used for each monster, which further adds to the creepiness of the film.
Overall, this is a pretty solid horror film. It doesn’t really do anything new but it isn’t really trying to. In being a throwback to the old fashioned horror stories a good tone is created which has this affection for those classic stories, aided by the excellent atmosphere that Øvredal and the rest of the technical crew of the film are able to bring across. It’s not a powerful, thoughtful horror film like Us or Midsommar, but as a good old fashioned spook house type film it does the job well.
My Rating: 3.5/5