Andre Ovredal (Trollhunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) cements his place as one of the finest horror directors of the moment with his thrilling, fun and rather creepy adaptation of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
Based on the books from the ‘80s and ‘90s, a group of teens discover a book of horror tales in a supposedly haunted house. They’ve been written by the long-since deceased Sarah Bellows, whose life and death are shrouded in mystery and myth. Whatever happened, it’s clear that something dark went down when she died. When her terrifying stories start to come alive the teens must band together to piece the petrifying puzzle together, hopefully preventing the fictional nightmares from becoming even more real.
Thanks to Ovredal’s attraction to atmospheric scares over studio-favourited jumps, the scary stories are brought to life in a vivid and spooky fashion. It’s Goosebumps amped up to 100, where we have a nostalgia trip that’s a thrill, but the terror here is certainly not always family-friendly. As seen in his painfully tense The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Ovredal perfects a use of petrifying slow-pace to build up the tension. Silence dominates to let the audience’s imagination run riot: When will the scare happen? Now? Now..? Oh shit, it’s now. A bedroom scene especially makes for anxious viewing, so look out for that one.
A couple of scenes will stick with you after the credits roll; I, for one, think scarecrows are terrifying, so there’s a segment here that’s particularly nightmare-inducing. Also, when was the last horror feature about scarecrows? We need more of those, please. If you hate hospitals, cornfields, weird smiling ladies or being chased by old men who lose their heads, then something here will certainly get you sweating. The scares are creative and fun; the film plays out like a haunted house of horrors. You’ll be glad to reach the end, but the journey was mostly heart-racing and entertaining.
Producer Guillermo del Toro’s keen hand for horror aesthetics can be felt across Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, where the on-screen frights within friendship are complimented by gorgeous, haunting visuals. The house itself is draped in cobwebs and shadowy corners, wonderfully reminiscent of gothic horror tales; Dracula could have easily made himself at home here.
There are some un-welcome/welcome (delete as you see appropriate) comedic dips in the horror that are understandably inserted. Come on, it’d get too dark if it was as relentless as I’d have made it. (Muahaha!). Gabriel Rush and Austin Zajur’s Auggie and Chuck offer some of the best comedic relief with witty one-liners, but Zoe Margaret Colletti’s Stella Nicholls is the film’s most important character. She’s the star of the show; an intelligent, horror fan who stands on her own two feet. She’s no damsel in distress and another character example of how horror is the perfect genre for strong women.
The pace weakens in the middle and I did find myself wondering how long could possibly be left – the runtime edges unnecessarily close to the 2-hour mark – but, the stories themselves and the scares that surround them are a treat, even when everything around them starts to feel tiresome. Scary Stories… would have benefited from tighter editing and a loss of around 20-minutes, to prevent those more humdrum moments.
All in all, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is great fun for all ages, which is a rarity and should be appreciated. If you’re not fed-up of riding the nostalgia train with films like It and Netflix’s Stranger Things, then you’re sure to have fun with this ’80s homage to spooky stories and the monsters within them.