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Review: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark


I didn’t know anything about Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark nor did I know about or even hear of the books that they were based on. Apparently, there was a market for it and after watching it, I can see why the folks behind this thought it would make for a good movie. That’s one reason to get it out to the masses, but it’s also important that you manage to present it in a way that will satisfy those who are attracted to it.

In America, there’s a small town called Mill Valley where the Bellows family casts a large shadow over everything. Although they’ve long since moved on from this life, the mansion they resided in still stands and brings plenty of stories with it. History says that the one with most stories to tell was Sarah. Most of her tales were scary and she wrote them in a book that a bunch of teenagers come across one fateful Halloween night. And while most of what was written was ages ago, they find out that Sarah still has a desire to keep writing and showcase just how powerful her words can actually be.

Soon after the first scares start to kick up, I quickly accepted that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark would have really benefited from being rated R. I had already figured that would be the case before even sitting down to watch the movie, but that fact became even clearer once everything starts moving. If you decide to watch, you’ll notice the same thing fairly quickly. There are things in here that would have benefited from that change and allowed for this to have more of the punch that its creators were trying to achieve.

Seeing as how this is based on a series of books for youngsters, a change in rating to allow more graphic additions being included was never going to happen. Because of its target audience, they had to play it somewhat safe. This obviously would restrict what could be done, but this is where more creativity from the people behind it was necessary. Without that, we get a feature that struggles even though it had some undeniable potential.

There are ideas here that could have been developed regardless of who the film’s target audience was. Many of these ideas seem incomplete for whatever reason. This is where some depth and creativity would have helped. You could accomplish this by going into more detail with the characters and developing certain parts of their personalities more. This would have allowed for things like the comedy that they tried to include to become more relevant and consistent. Needless to say, you would get more of a response of the audience by doing this.

Since it’s a horror movie, I know you’re not really coming for comedy or romance or anything, but those features are almost always a part of these films in some form. And because none of that is fleshed out anywhere near as well as it should be, the movie feels even more incomplete. Obviously, it wasn’t done on purpose, but this, unfortunately, fits in with everything else we get (and don’t get) from this movie.

Those factors combined highlight just how limited everything was here. Some of the blame has to go to the filmmakers, but some of it has to be blamed on the parameters they’re forced to work within. Either way, these guys weren’t able to overcome their issues. When looking at it, the scares and actions of the characters are noticeably restrained, but so is the violence, the politics and the play on racial elements that they tried to include for some reason.

Scary Stories didn’t turn out to be one of those rare PG-13 horror movies that’s actually good. While there isn’t a whole lot to hate, this is the kind of movie that had a lot of room to improve. From the setup, to the plot, to the visual effects, and the characters, much of what’s included just feels underwhelming and underdeveloped. Maybe that’s exactly why it’s being released in August. Maybe the studio knew what they had and decided to release it in the emptiest month of the year in order to maximize profits.

Director: André Øvredal

Dan Hageman
Kevin Hageman

Zoe Colletti
Michael Garza
Gabriel Rush
Austin Abrams
Dean Norris
Gil Bellows
Lorraine Toussaint
Austin Zajur
Natalie Ganzhorn

Film Length: 108 minutes

Release Date: August 9, 2019

Distributor: CBS Films

  • 5/10
    Score - 5/10
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