#REVIEW: “SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
It’s Halloween in 1968. Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) and her friends are on the run from bullies and end up at the boarded-up mansion where Sarah Bellows used to live. Bellows is a local myth and stories abound about her being involved with multiple disappearances. The group stumble upon a book that belonged to Sarah, and not so soon after, notice that it has a mind of its own – writing grotesque stories in blood before their very eyes, all involving them.
From the start, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark sets out to be sinister and unsettling. For one, it involves school-aged children and for another, it is based off a legendary short story anthology series that has been scaring the pants off them for nearly 40 years. And watching those scary stories come to life is sure to delight and horrify fans and non-fans alike. Director André Øvredal (who premiered the terrifying The Autopsy of Jane Doe at TIFF ’16) lets loose in these scenes, filling the frame with chilling Set Design work, precise Sound Effects and spine-tingling thrills. You fear for the lives of these kids, and you feel every step and breath they take – that is, if you are not holding your own. Every single one of these scenes is effective and genuinely well composed, masterfully relying heavily on practical effects. CGI is employed in some cases, but takes away from how eerie and frightening the practical work is.
The way Øvredal uses the ear-piercing Score and absolute silence, often in the exact same scene, only adds to how scary these scenes quickly become. And if you recognize some of the exterior background shots of Hamilton and Toronto littered throughout Scary Stories…well, that just makes everything happening on screen that much more distressing.
Sadly, the Story around these scenes is nowhere near as compelling. Colletti and the rest of the young Cast have a blast screaming their way through the Film, but it is clear that their story is very pieced-together and not all that fleshed out. We only get glimpses into their lives and are not privy to any form of three dimensionality. Even the way the Film investigates and resolves the mystery surrounding Bellows, feels very haphazard. I get that the point of the Film was to breathe cinematic life into a handful of Alvin Schwartz’s stories, but then why not make it into a feature-length Anthology Film comprised entirely of Shorts? If that is where all the excitement and passion lie, why bother stitching a boring storyline around them?
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is at its best when it is retelling those stories you have read, heard and been kept up late by for years. The way Øvredal and his behind-the-scenes team composes these moments is enough to frighten and give nightmares to a whole new generation. But the Story that fills in around these scenes is nowhere near as good and feels inconsistent. I loved how effective the scares are here, and loved listening to how terrified the crowd was around me. I just wish the whole Film could have maintained that energy.
eOne Films release SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK on Friday, August 9, 2019.