Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Movie Review: A well-directed, fairly enjoyable horror film
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
If there is one genre that has both template films and those that break out of it, it has to be horror. On one hand, you have the Conjuring franchise and its numerous spin-offs with familiar tropes, while on the other, you have truly terrifying ones like Hereditary, Us, It and the likes. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark falls somewhere in between both.
Cast: Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Austin Zajur, Gabriel Rush
Director: André Øvredal
The film begins on Halloween night when a loner Stella (Zoe Colletti) is bullied by one of the high school kids, and she, along with her group of friends, run away and find refuge in an abandoned house. As you can imagine, this house has a story of its own, and is recounted by Stella, a self-confessed horror buff (there is a nod to the famous 1968 film, The Night of the Living Dead, that follows this idea). In this house lived a child called Sarah Bellows, a murderer who used to lure children by promising to tell them scary stories. Stella and her friends realise that horror has truly come alive in their lives, upon leaving this house.
This film reminded me of two distinct properties, the first being The Goosebumps books that show inventiveness in bringing gore and psychological terror through everyday objects. In this film, there is one terrific scarecrow sequence in a corn field that is straight out of The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight. Secondly, it also reminded me of The Final Destination franchise. Much like there, death is predictive in nature and is almost unavoidable. Death is coming, but nobody knows how. The setup is terrific. Like with Chuck (Austin Zajur) and Auggie's (Gabriel Rush) stories, The Red Dot and The Giant Toe, respectively. The former is a dreamy sequence where the director plays around with red texture and shadows, while the latter is straight out gore, reminiscent of his previous film, The Autopsy of Jane Doe.
Adroit direction is why this film is largely watchable. Be it the presence of a chair whenever a new story is about to unfold or the hues of 1968 brought to life on screen in a VCR-esque quality a la Stranger Things, there are many enjoyable touches. There is also a fabulous undercurrent of Nixon's presidency being told through black-and-white TVs which is quintessential Guillermo del Toro (producer and writer) asking us what really is the scary story that is being told in the dark here.
A horror movie, at its basal level, is not just about the set-up and clever little punches, but also delivering the scare. This film does not quite deliver that with del Toro's love for monsters not really coming across as expected all through. The music too is a big let down. There is a bluish grey hue that tends to pervade much of the film's night moments and it is hard to know what exactly is happening.
All said though, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a refreshing horror story that has its heart in the right place. Like the film says, stories have the power to heal and the power to destroy. In a world that is increasingly becoming polarised thanks to oft-repeated stories that might not be true, stories need to be told with gumption and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, without being overt about it, still reminds us of that.