Let’s tell stories in the dark.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a loose adaptation of Alvin Schwartz’s classic gateway series for youngsters to get into horror. Published in 1981, these stories contain some brutal artwork and had a major impact on me. The film, which inexplicably takes place during the Vietnam War, loosely bases itself on some of the ideas present.
Here, we have a teen scream as we follow Zoe (Stella Nicholls) her moron friends and potential love interest Ramon (Michael Garza) as they find a cursed book that writes stories by itself, usually ending in someone’s death.
In what might be a surprising stance, I don’t mind that they went the teen scream route. They had to choose between catering to younger fans of horror (which the books did) or catering to fans of the original text. Honestly, either way it seems like a bit of a lose-lose as certain people would feel alienated from the setup.
However, the whole thing does feel a bit more Goosebumps than anything else.
Our grand narrative of wayward youths dodging ghosts and bullies in the fall of 1969 seems more like the film is trying to ride the nostalgia wave of It and Stranger Things. I guess this is a fine, though inexplicable decision that lacks any narrative reasoning. Even the racism Ramon faces could be put into a 2019 setting without much suspension of disbelief needed. The Vietnam War is only mentioned as a time beacon and doesn’t serve much of a narrative point.
Honestly, I think they wanted to ride the nostalgia trend AND avoid having to deal with cellular technology, which would render a lot of the mystery pointless.
At its core, this is a mystery that isn’t very mysterious. There are no surprising twists as our kids march from scene to scene in a predictable and formulaic fashion. The mini-stories the book writes are fun enough, and the creature designs are mostly good, but it isn’t enough to lift the lackluster base narrative.
Granted, the film is not a disaster. For teens trying to get into horror this offers a relatively safe and bloodless peak into the macabre. However, how large of an audience is this? They could have pushed a bit further to be on par with the Blumhouse films, right?
I feel lukewarm on this one. I am not sure if my issues with the film are colored by my own nostalgia of wanting to recapture the early scares of my childhood, or if the film itself is substandard. The whole thing is fine, the acting is fine, the story is mostly fine, the effects are mostly fine, the dialogue is atrocious, and the scares are light. Is this mission failure or accomplishment?
I’m not entirely sure. The whole thing feels forgettable. A teenie movie with little thought and a forced sequel bait that will likely not get made.
Watch if you have kids, I guess.