Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
scary stories to tell in the dark | andre ovredal | dan hageman | kevin hageman | guillermo del toro | zoe margaret colletti | michael garza | gabriel rush | based on | novel | alvin schwartz | mystery | thriller | united states | canada | ghost | haunted house | haunted
Film: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Director: André Øvredal
Writer: Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman and Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza and Gabriel Rush
When I heard that Guillermo del Toro was involved in bringing these series of books to life, I was definitely intrigued. I’m actually thinking this is one of my first forays into reading horror and this was a staple of my childhood. It was a race to check these out in both of the elementary school libraries that I attended. It wasn’t until my sister bought the trilogy that I actually got the chance to read them cover to cover. It’s been quite a while since I did so. The synopsis for the movie is a group of teens face their fears to save their lives.
We get a pretty solid introduction to all of the characters and the setting of the film. It is a small town in Pennsylvania back in 1968. There’s a backdrop here of Richard Nixon trying to get the Republican nomination and that seems to be the buzz around the town. Our main character is Stella Nicholls (Zoe Margaret Colletti). She lives with her father and she wants to become a writer. Her best friends are Auggie Hilderbrandt (Gabriel Rush) who is kind of a hopeless romantic for any girl that will show interest. Their other friend is Chuck Steinberg (Austin Zajur). His has an older sister, Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn) who is quite attractive and into theater. It is Halloween and the two guys have to convince Stella to come out as they have a prank planned.
The era is interesting, because it is in the middle of the Vietnam War and the draft is a scary, looming thing. A young man Ramón (Michael Garza) is passing through, keeping up with the crops that are being picked. The local sheriff, Chief Turner (Gil Bellows) asks him about what’s he up to and I got a vibe of racism here.
There is also a local bully, Tommy (Austin Abrams) who lives on a farm. He doesn’t like their scarecrow, named Harold. He traumatizes the group of kids that we are following. He’s the one they’re trying to get their revenge on, which leads them to meeting Ramón. It’s at the drive-in and he protects them from Tommy. Stella takes a liking to Ramón and invites him to a local haunted house. It is there we the back-story of the town and one of its founding families. There’s a local legend about Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard). Stella discovers her book and asks her to tell her a story. The problem is that this awakens a vengeful spirit that starts to punish them for what they’ve done.
I have to lead of here stating that I really like what they did by adapting this to the screen. As I said that I grew up with these books, it is really fun to hear the title of some of my favorite stories and also getting to see some of them brought to life here. There’s a really dark story here if I’m going to be honest and that is something I really appreciated it.
Going beyond that though, there is really a deeper story here that I really liked. The background of the Bellows family and how it comes into play of the film. Sarah had some kind of condition and she lived in 1898, so I could literally see a family hiding her away like they did. Since there were burnings of witches and things like that, it really does make sense. The backdrop of Nixon as well is something I really like. I think the idea of corruption is a social commentary and how much the townspeople here are embracing it. I also personally think it is also looking at our nation and it’s current place as well.
There was something else here that I caught on to with Stella and Sarah. Sarah is telling her scary stories and it is killing people. Stella wants to be a writer and she is really into horror. The duality of the two is interesting and something that happens during the climax was interesting. I almost wished they would have gone a step farther though. There’s a very cool scene where we hear a recording of Sarah and she is telling something that is of events happening. They didn’t do the cop out I thought they were moving toward, but it seems like it could if they decide to go with a sequel. There’s so many stories that a sequel or a prequel could happen if it is successful enough.
To move to the pacing of the film, I was surprised to see that it had a running time of almost 2 hours. That did kind of worry me, but to be honest, it is a non-factor. The movie doesn’t waste any time getting into it and really moves from event to event. I really liked how that happened. I do think we get a bit of catering to a younger audience, but it is nothing that hurt the film for me. The movie does build tension throughout. I did like the climax and how everything plays out in the end. As I said, it felt like it was gearing to something I didn’t want to have happen, but it didn’t go there thankfully. It is fitting that this was co-written and produced by del Toro, because we do get that dark fairy tale vibe he is known for.
I want to move to my thoughts on the acting here. Colletti was pretty solid as the lead. I really like that she is into horror and that she wants to be a writer. It really made me see some of myself in her character, which helps when you can connect like that. There’s deeper trauma there that her mother left while she is young and she blames herself. It brings darkness to the character. Garza is solid as well. There is an interesting politic aspect to the film with him and I also think is solid to see him dealing with racism that was accepted back then. I don’t like how his character ends at the film, but it makes sense with the breaking the circle of corruption. Rush and Zajur are solid, especially Zajur as he brings some comedy to the film. I did like seeing Norris and Bellows in their roles. I also thought that Abrams brings a villainous character to the film where his comeuppance was fitting. The rest of the cast rounded out the film for what was needed.
Something I was worried about coming into this film was the effects. I knew that they were going to go CGI, but to be honest, it wasn’t an issue. They did it for the most part in a way that looked pretty realistic. Not all of it, but some of this feels like a nightmare so I’m more forgiving in cases like that. I thought the look of Sarah was good, especially because they hide her for a lot of it. I will always say that just give me a little, because my imagination will probably scare me more than what they can do. It was also shot very well. There were some interesting camera angles and POVs that really worked in building tension as well.
The last thing to cover would be the soundtrack. I thought to be honest it was fitting. It didn’t really stand out to me aside from kicking the film off with the song ‘Season of the Witch’, which being set on Halloween is great. They also finish the film with a cover of it, which I also liked. The rest of it really did fit the scenes and helped to build the necessary tension.
Now with that said, I really enjoyed this film. I thought that they did a good job in bringing these stories to life and meshing them together with a pretty dark back-story. There is an interesting aspect here with the social commentary of the time period as well as bringing up issues that are still plaguing the country today. I thought despite its running time that it built the necessary tension, which the soundtrack definitely helped there as well. The acting was pretty solid and I thought that even though they went with CGI mostly, it still looked good to me. There would only be slight issues. I thought this was a good film overall and would definitely recommend this if you’re a fan of the books or even if you don’t necessarily like horror films.
My Rating: 8.5 out of 10