Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Stories that hurt

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“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is a little creepy horror flick which serves us a number of good scary moments within our expectation. As a sort of hybrid between “Final Destination” (2000) and “Goosebumps” (2015), the movie does not bring anything particularly new to its genre territory, but those scary moments in the film are presented with enough style and substance at least, and that surely distinguishes itself a bit from other similar genre works.

The story is set in a small rural town in Pennsylvania during the autumn of 1968. While many of town residents are mostly occupied with the upcoming presidential election, the kids in the town pay more attention to what they are going to do in Halloween evening, and Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) are eager to have lots of fun and excitement along with their high school friend Stella (Zoe Colletti), who is your average nerdy girl as shown from her room filled with various items associated with comic books and horror movies.

However, Stella is not that eager to enjoy Halloween evening unlike her two friends. Some time ago, her mother suddenly left her and her father for an unspecified reason, and many people in the town have gossiped about her inexplicable disappearance. This certainly hurts Stella a lot, and she has consequently felt lots of guilt about not only her mother’s disappearance but also her father’s rather depressed status.

Anyway, Stella eventually joins Auggie and Chuck, and then they find themselves in a big trouble when they try to pull a prank on their school bully and his cronies. When they are running away from that school bully and his cronies, they fortunately come across a lad who happens to stay in the town for a while, and they later take him to a certain haunted house in the town because, well, it is Halloween evening.

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Once they arrive at that place along with Ramón (Michael Garza), they tell him (and us) a long bad history behind it. Around a century ago, the house belonged to a wealthy and powerful family whose big business was virtually the foundation of the town, but the family happened to have an eccentric daughter who was shameful in their view, and they kept her in a hidden basement in the house for a long time. When she was later accused of murdering several children, the family did not do anything at all for her, and, according to what has been told for many following years, she eventually committed suicide when angry town people came together to the house for killing her.

Of course, it does not take much time for our young main characters to discover the entrance to that hidden basement, and, what do you know, Stella soon notices a book containing stories which seems to be written by that woman. She is not concerned much when she and others later get out of the house along with that book, but then, not so surprisingly, strange things start to happen as new stories are added to the book by some malevolent supernatural force, and it becomes quite clear to Stella and others that they must do something before it is too late for all of them.

Steadily dialing up the level of creepiness on the screen, the movie, which is based on the children’s book series of the same name by Alvin Schwartz, doles out its several key sequences one by one, and director André Øvredal, who previously directed “Trollhunter” (2010) and “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” (2016), and his crew members skillfully handle them on the whole. In case of an expected sequence involved with a shabby scarecrow in a cornfield, there is a little nice twist to surprise us, and I also like the horrifying sequence involved with a bulging spot on a certain character’s face.

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In the meantime, the screenplay by Dan and Kevin Hageman, which is developed from the story by co-producer Guillermo del Toro and his two co-writer Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, also takes some time in establishing story and characters we can care about. While Stella’s personal drama and Ramón’s hidden past give some gravitas to the film, Auggie and Chuck become more than comic relief characters as we get to know more about them, and it certainly helps that Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, and Austin Zajur are engaging in their respective roles. They are likable enough to make us care about what is being at stake for their characters, and they are also supported well by several veteran performers including Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, and Lorraine Toussaint.

In the end, everything eventually culminates to a climatic sequence unfolded in that haunted place (Is this a spoiler?), and the movie deftly goes back and forth between two different viewpoints without losing any narrative momentum. Although the ending is a bit too convenient in my inconsequential opinion, it fits with what is emphasized to us at the beginning of the movie, and the tentative optimism at the end of the story feels poignant as we muse on how things are indeed changed for its main characters.

In conclusion, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is a suitable horror movie for chilly autumn evening, and I was entertained enough by its creepy mood and solid storytelling even though I could clearly see from the start how it was going to provide me. It did not terrify me that much, but I cherished its good moments nonetheless, so I will not grumble for now.

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