Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is the film adaptation of Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell’s classic, bone-chilling books from the ’80s and ’90s. If you are like me, then you would have remembered checking these books out from your school’s library or your 4th-grade teacher had these books on a shelf in the classroom and you read them during free time. I was amped for some of the stories to be told through the big screen, especially Harold and The Red Spot. The books are iconic thanks to illustrations used for the stories. The drawings set the tone for the suspenseful adventure that you are enthralled in when you read them word for word. Each line gets more chilling until the payoff hits. With this movie, we do get solid buildup to the on-coming scare, but the payoff is underwhelming. When you go into this movie, do not expect a thriller that will leave you scarred for the night. This is a tame PG-13 horror film that is aimed to be enjoyed by adults and kids alike, which ends up being the prime flaw of this film.
As every story gets told, the scares get weaker and weaker to the point where the final act sadly turns comical. The way that Me-Tie-Doughty-Walker is portrayed was unfortunate in my eye because it was the story that haunted me the most as a child. The entities used as the figments of the horror are fairly dull minus the first two. I understand that these stories were written for children but a horror film’s goal is to be terrifying. This film does not deliver the nightmares that you would expect. I think an R-rating would have benefitted it ten-fold. Another problem with the scares is that they rely heavily on the generic sound-cue jumpscare. The sound-cue ends up being more terrifying than what is shown on screen. My final negative with the film are the protagonists. There is not enough characterization given to our main girl and guy. There is this awkward connection tied to our main male character that has to do with the ongoing Vietnam War during the mid-20th century. Our main heroine has familial issues that are not explored enough. I think the writing could have taken that background deeper than it went. Her friends are really there to be written into these stories and can be annoying with some cringe-worthy one-liners. However, what this movie lacks in great scares and character development, makes up for with aesthetic and superb cinematography.
The film takes place on Halloween and a few days following. Once it hits Blu-Ray or becomes digitally available, I would highly recommend this as something to watch on that day. I know I will when I have my annual Halloween movie marathon that includes film such as Trick ‘r Treat, Evil Dead, and John Carpenter’s Halloween. For someone that spends nine months in a small town, I appreciate the small-town vibes in this film. You can clearly tell that it was filmed during the Fall season to help add on to the more Halloween-esque feel. The cinematography and use of practical effects are as amazing as you would expect from Guillermo Del Toro product. The color saturation used in certain scenes stands out to make the setting a character through the stories being written in the moment. The way that the stories come to life and the portrayal of the antagonist are very refreshing in a cinematic era of recycled material and common tropes. The narrative stands out from other films because it is not written in like every other film.
Like I said before, this film will most likely underwhelm you if you were looking for nightmarish scares. At best, it is a haunted house vibe with the stories playing out as a race against time for our main characters. The best way to describe this film would be as a good warmup before IT: Chapter Two hits theatres because the scares are not going to be held back in any way. In the end, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is highly enjoyable from a technical standpoint but is held back tremendously due to tameness and that treaded PG-13 rating.