The American horror movie, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, is directed by André Øvredal. The screenplay by Dan Hageman and Kevin Hageman is based on the story by Guillermo del Toro, Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan and the children’s book series by Alvin Schwartz.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark stars Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush and Austin Zajur playing a group of misfit kids who breaks into the local haunted house that belonged to the Bellows family. There they discover a book of scary stories inside a secret room where they believe Sarah Bellows, the ghost behind all the horrifying happenings later, once lived.

Warning: Some spoilers ahead.

The plot

The legend goes that kids in town would go to the house and ask Sarah for a scary story. Sarah would in turn make one come true, even bringing monsters to life, and cause the kid to disappear. Stella (Colletti) and the gang decide to test the theory and basically regret it for the rest of the movie.

The group do some investigation work and discover Sarah’s real secret. Along the way, they get terrorised by different monsters like The Pale Lady and Jangly Man and one by one, Auggie (Rush), Chuck (Zajur) and the school bully Tommy (Austin Abrams) get taken away by the monsters. In the end, it’s up to Stella and Ramón to stop Sarah once and for all.

The takeaway

Okay, first of all. I should give the disclaimer that I’ve never read the original books so I went into the cinema blind with no expectations. But even so, I tried to like this one, guys. I really did.

Let’s talk about the good stuff first: the monster costumes were fantastic. The monsters looked amazing and scary, especially The Pale Lady and Jangly Man. They really helped make the film interesting during the scary parts.

Another thing I like about the movie is the acting, which was generally okay though most of the characters lack depth. With what’s given, I think the actors managed to do a great job playing their roles.

Colletti really showed off her acting chops with her portrayal of Stella, a horror enthusiast, aspiring writer and sad lonely girl who’s traumatised by her mother leaving the family.

In the too few instances where Stella becomes more than just “the girl who wants to investigate the hauntings”, Colletti did well for a role that demands a lot emotionally. Unfortunately, the film didn’t give enough chance for that.

My favourite Stella scene is the phone call with her father, Deputy Roy Nicholls (Dean Norris) when she got arrested. Roy misinterprets her words as something else and their conversation becomes doubled-meaning, as if they were also talking about the time her mother walked out on the family.

It’s obvious that the film tries to draw parallels between the characters of Stella and Sarah. Both are lonely, depressed and angry with their family and their situation even though it’s not their fault that they wound up there. And there’s also the fact that they both write scary stories and have other people make up rumours about them which they let get to them. I think it’s pretty clever as it adds depth to the character and story and makes Stella very likable.

But unfortunately, the film doesn’t explore enough of this. Shame, really. It’s about the only interesting thing about the film other than the monster parts. As for the other characters, there’s nothing at all going for them except the bits of back story said in dialogue. Which honestly doesn’t help make them any more than flat supporting characters.

Seriously, the only person I care about is Stella (and maybe her dad) and that’s frustrating.

At least Zajur has some personality. He’s great at both delivering his comedic lines and being scared when confronted by The Pale Lady. Which makes Chuck the 2nd most developed character of the lot. Hmm…

Okay, fine, the film also did make an attempt to give something extra for Ramón’s character with the whole drifter and dead brother stuff but Garza’s portrayal isn’t as entertaining as Zajur’s. So at the of the day, Ramón being Stella’s #2 is just redundant.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as much as I wanted to. While the monsters looked amazing, the scary parts weren’t at all scary. They seem to be catered more for kids, even though the original books were first published in the 80s. So maybe the horror is for the 80s kids’ kids?

Besides the horror stuff, the story itself is pretty sloppy. There’s no connection between the characters and the monsters that attacked them. The film tries to pass off that the monsters are basically childhood fears specific to the character, making Sarah too close to Stephen King’s It.

But it still doesn’t actually explain why Sarah use childhood fears as her weapon of choice.

It just seems too much like they pick and choose the monsters they want to design costumes for and carelessly give one to a character before making up some brief backstory and running with it. As if the film’s main focus is the monster costumes and everything else is just secondary. Whatever it is, the film is basically a mess.

Though perhaps kids would enjoy it because they won’t be as picky about plot and characterisation. Who knows? Also, the film’s ending seems to hint at a continuation of some sort. Here’s hoping the sequel turns out much better than this one. I really, really, hope it does.

TL;DR

The Good
– Stella and the parallels with Sarah
– Monsters
– Zajur’s comedic skill with delivering kid humour

The Bad
– Weak plot
– Underdeveloped characters
– Not scary at all for anyone above 12