André Øvredal’s Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark would have been more effective if they’d kept the film adaptation as scary, and as dark as the famed book series and I understand that some cohesion in plot and script continuity was needed to give us a feature film, but I kind of wish they’d gone the artsy, surreal route and just adapted each story in an independent black & white ether from one another instead of trying to make them ‘make sense’ logically and have this… YA, Stranger Things teen angst template laid overtop, which really just sucks the spooky air out of the room. That’s not to say this is a bad film, there are some nicely terrifying set pieces, unnervingly tactile practical effects and thrillingly suspenseful sequences.. it’s just the framework that didn’t quite do it for me. The original book series was blissfully simple: just a bunch of random horror fables, independent of one another. The film makes up this cockamamie jargon about some Necronomicon-Lite book that has power over each monster from each respective tale, a book which a cliche ridden group of local kids must destroy as its contents come after them after the reading of each chapter. It’s complete with the small town vibe, bully, love triangle thing and all the rest, which I’m not sure was the right way to go, but like I said, I understand the decision to do so. Having said that, the special effects team has done wonderful work with the monsters and made them about as visually true to the books as possible without quite retaining the stark, ghostly potency of the illustrations we know so well. The contorting Jangly Man is an unholy terror and quite effective, especially as he storms a nearly deserted police station and scares the piss out of its disbelieving Sheriff (Gil Bellows). Harold the Scarecrow is eerie enough but doesn’t get a whole lot to do, while the shambling corpse looking for its Big Toe is pretty darn fucked up and uncomfortable. Most effective is the unnerving Pale Girl, who terrorizes a teen in the abandoned hallways of an asylum from all sides in a sequence that’s the closest the film comes to downright terrifying and, for a time, successfully lives up to the legacy of the books. Producer Guillermo Del Toro’s aura is felt here in the wonderful monster design and director André Øvredal (who helmed the brilliant and far scarier Autopsy Of Jane Doe) keeps the stylistics and suspense going nicely, if not always consistently. Sometimes the switch from the Black & White of the books to a colour palette here can feel a bit demystifying and less otherworldly, I wish they had just gone the Sin City route and done a complete monochrome wash with the odd splash of colour here and there, would have been much more evocative. It’s a decent enough horror film with some truly great monsters, creepy moments and immersive atmosphere… I just could have done without the teen drama subplots, expository connective tissue and this ever present need to *explain* everything and give every horror concept a ‘backstory’ instead of just trusting the source material to be enough on its own and just filming *that* without a bunch of silly narrative bells and whistles that feel familiar and stale.

-Nate Hill


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