Directed by André Øvredal
Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton, Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, and Guillermo Del Toro
The shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large in the small town of Mill Valley for generations. It’s in a mansion that young Sarah Bellows turns her tortured life and horrible secrets into a series of scary stories. These terrifying tales soon have a way of becoming all too real for a group of unsuspecting teens who stumble upon Sarah’s spooky home.
Most non-casual moviegoers know this film is based on the terrifying young adult books of the same name, written by Alvin Schwartz, and illustrated by Stephen Gammell. If you didn’t grow up reading the books, have no fear, you can still enjoy the film of the same name.
The film begins on Halloween night of 1968 and follows a group of misfit friends as they dive headfirst into the long night of scares. Beautifully presented, Scary Stories knows the value of set design, as we’re treated to glowing Jack O’ Lanterns, foggy streets, and lush locations that conjure up long-forgotten memories as well as set the film’s eerie tone. Director, André Øvredal knows a little small town Americana and period nostalgia goes a long way, but never overindulges.
Our core nerd group consists of Auggie (Gabriel Rush), Chuck (Auston Zajur). the leader, Stella (Zoe Colletti), and the newcomer introduced by circumstance, Ramón (Michael Garza). Stella, who recently lost her mother, is an inspiring horror writer with, as her room shows, a love of all things creepy. After some Halloween revenge plans go wrong. the group makes up for lost time by breaking into the old and abandoned Bellows house – the standard haunted house complete with draperies of spiderwebs and hellish visions. After finding a hidden room, Stella unearths a long-forgotten book penned by the mysterious Sarah Bellows. Stella, enamored by the book, takes it with her. It’s in that singular act that opens the kids to an otherworldly manifestation of their worse nightmares.
What follows is steeped in horror traditions without running into watered down tropes. Øvredal is talented at presenting this anthology-style story without taking away from the individual characters or creeping horrors within. He doesn’t shy away from an amazing amalgamation of practical and CG scares dutifully created to tap into some of our own fears. While the film doesn’t break any new ground, the Scooby Gang approach, complete with budding teen relationships, shows the love of horror stories in a fresh and welcoming light. In the end, this film is all about the love of old-fashioned stories, and that is always a welcome friend.
Final score: B+.