Arts movie review

Spooky times await

An amalgamation of scary stories haphazardly stitched together

9081 scary stories to tell in the dark
Chuck (Austin Zajur) faces his fear in 'Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.'
George Kraychyk/CBS Films

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Directed by André Øvredal
Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro, Dan Hageman, and Kevin Hageman
Starring Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur
Rated PG-13, Now Playing

The things that go bump in the night is a phrase that brings us back to our childhood days of fear. It makes us think of the creepy creatures hiding just beyond our periphery, waiting to sneak out from the back of our minds to confront us in the dark.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark tries to capture the essence of this childhood fear as it follows Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), Ramón (Michael Garza), Auggie (Gabriel Rush), and Chuck (Austin Zajur) in a small, rural town in the middle of nowhere. The four teens break into the boarded up and long abandoned Bellows home to discover the book of scary stories left behind by the tragic Sarah Bellows. Of course, one of them has to pocket the book, triggering the horror that soon consumes their lives.

Now, let’s talk horror. Is the movie scary? Sure, there are definitely some well-placed jumpscares and nail-biting, tense moments, but it’s not something that’ll haunt me for the rest of my life. Loosely based off of the collection of short stories of the same name, the film uses the teens’ impending doom and the skin-crawling aesthetic of its monsters to fuel most of the horror, which doesn’t quite match up to the horror of its source material. 

The short stories, accompanied by truly terrifying illustrations, uses the reader’s imagination to fuel a lot of the horror, whereas the film uses cheap cliches that allow us to easily fill in the blanks. Someone gets dragged off into the darkness? Obviously dead. But what if someone is found the next morning screaming their head off? You can’t help but wonder what left them in that state before thinking you probably don’t really want to know what happened.

The actual story of the film is rather basic and filled with repetitive horror movie tropes. There’s the tortured soul pulling all the strings who needs closure in order to stop its reign of terror, the charming boy who is brave and easily likable, and the skeptic who eventually meets an unfortunate end. As one might expect, the horror only begins because the main characters have no semblance of common sense and self-preservation. In the face of obvious danger and red flags, the characters decide to be nosy and poke their heads into forbidden realms rather than avoiding the possibility of cursing themselves.

Overall, the movie is entertaining and scary. The monsters are convincing and creepy, but they come nowhere near capturing the true horror the source material provides. If you want a tense and quick scare, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark could achieve that goal, but there are definitely more complex and much scarier alternatives available via Netflix.