Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark movie review: Guillermo Del Toro, André Øvredal present a rich horror experience

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has Guillermo Del Toro's fingerprints all over the film but benefits heavily from André Øvredal's assured direction.

Mihir Fadnavis August 09, 2019 08:54:15 IST

3/5

Horror is well and truly experiencing a golden age as the film adaptation of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has turned out to be a fun and entertaining ride. The movie is, without a doubt, bereft of a single aspect of originality but it executes its familiar elements well enough to warrant a nice and cozy watch in the theater. 

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark movie review Guillermo Del Toro Andr vredal  present a rich horror experience

A still from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. YouTube

The less you know about this film the better. In fact, you will be rewarded mightily if you have not seen a single trailer or poster. All you need to know is that it is a creepy amalgamation of spooky stories featuring kids and an assortment of ghoulish entities. That is it – walkaway from this review, and head to the theater. 

The film is produced by Guillermo Del Toro, whose gothic fingerprints can be felt all over the film. But more importantly, it is directed by André Øvredal who made the excellent Trollhunters a few years ago, and followed it up with the creepy The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Øvredal’s horror filmmaking flair is felt fully in this film as he initiates the scares in a drip by drip fashion, and increases them in intensity until things go fully berserk. It does not always work, particularly in the moments that show the horror elements in full bloom – most of the fun to be had in the film is during the moments when things are unexplained. 

The film also dances between the standard issue mainstream level horror and the raw genre film eeriness, although the stuff in between the big moments is a bit of a jaunt to get through. The characters are not very different from the kids we have seen recently in cinema and streaming shows. The decisions they make are in full servitude of the scares happening – meaning they do not have any agency apart from generating thrills. I am not sure why so many horror films fall into this trap when they get everything else perfectly right. Oddly, there are five writers credited here. One would think all these guys would have ironed out the kinks before filming, but no such luck here. 

The makeup effects, prosthetic and the lighting, however, make up for any flaws. The film is teeming with chilling atmosphere. You will often find yourself clutching on to your friend’s arm, owing to the effectiveness of the intense moments. Fans of the source material will no doubt find joy in the faithfulness of the adaptation. The sheer wholesomeness of the setting, and the old-school approach to the frights makes for a real snug experience.

The central mystery is fairly effective as it turns the children into detectives of sorts in what seems like a crossover between Chinatown and Pran’s comics, although the sequel bait at the end would make your eye roll. The real stars here are the monsters. It is a testament to the VFX team’s skill that they are scary and memorable in equal measure. Øvredal also deserves extra credit for not fully depending on jump scares to propel the moments.  

Rating: ***

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