Ghost stories have been a part of human story telling for as long as humans have been telling stories. Whether it's old folktales, urban legends, or just pure fiction, a good story always has a way of getting down to your core and sparking a reaction whether it be laughter, tears, or in the case of today's entry, fear. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is the 2019 film adaptation of the book series of the same name, which anyone who grew up in the 80's and 90's remembers as having some of the most disturbing artwork a children's book had ever seen and it was fantastic. If you need a refresher of what artist Stephen Gammell's nightmare fuel looked like don't worry, I got you covered.
Naturally, when us here at MRC heard that these night terrors were getting adapted to film and that Guillermo Del Toro was writing the screenplay we were all pretty excited. Then the first trailer came out and pretty much everyone in the group except for me dismissed it as tame, PG-13 nonsense. Well I'm here to tell you that while yes, it is PG-13, these were also stories made for children. I did not go into this expecting a hard R, gory horror movie. I expected some slightly spoopy, if not silly stories with a bunch of creepy imagery around it and on that front Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark delivers most of the time. Let's dive in and I will be going into spoiler territory so if you care about it go see the movie first and then come back.
Directed by André Øvredal (best known for directing Troll Hunger and The Autopsy of Jane Doe), Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark stars Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, and Austin Zajur as four friends who discover an old book supposedly owned by the town's urban legend Sarah Bellows. After taking the book home stories begin writing themselves that all come true and lead to a lot of spooky stuff happening. There really isn't much more than that other than a weird subplot of Michael Garza's character being a draft dodger that doesn't really matter to the plot at all, so I'm not going to spend any more time on it.
Really, the story overall is kind of bland, but that's not why we went to see this movie, is it? We went to see how well the short stories from the Scary Stories... series translated to film. The overall plot that ties all those stories together is of no consequence and let me tell you, the stories work very well in the film. Particularly The Big Toe and The Dream stories. The imagery looks like it's ripped right off the page and even if the cgi looks a little off in places (like at the ending of The Red Spot and Me Tie Dough-ty Walker!) it still effective enough to be creepy.
How about the acting? It was...mostly forgettable. The dialogue gets a little wonky in places - we all know about the "you don't read the book, the book reads you" line from the trailer - most of it was fine. The standout performance was by Austin Zajur, because that kid was pretty hilarious. He had all the good lines and his relationships with the other characters all felt natural. What really stand out to me above everything else was the directing. I've never seen any of his other movies but I really liked what I saw from André Øvredal in this film. It wasn't just "shot for efficiency" which is typical in way too many horror movies. Aside from a couple of scenes being a little too darkly lit (mainly the final confrontation with Sarah's ghost) nothing really stood out as bad.
Overall, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a fun movie. I enjoyed it, and the way that the imagery from the books was adapted to screen was nearly flawless. I would definitely recommend this movie but would strongly advise to make sure you know what you're getting into so you aren't disappointed. This is not a "scary" movie. This is a movie that's based off a children's book and as long as you keep that in mind going in, you'll have a good time.