Film review: ‘SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Directed by Troll Hunter’s André Øvredal and based on the book series by Alvin Schwartz, teen horror film Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a stylishly made but familiar horror flick that turns spooky ‘torch under the face’ campfire tales into an It-style battle between teen nerds and a malevolent supernatural force.

The ersatz Losers Club here are wallflower Stella (Zoe Colletti), brainiac Augie (Gabriel Rush) and smart-ass nerd Chuck (Austin Zajur) who are trying to tackle the perils of high school life – particularly the football rednecks – in small town Pennsylvania in 1968. While fleeing their quarterback nemesis one night, the trio and their new friend, the mysterious and dashing Ramon (Michael Garza), seek refuge in a reputed haunted house, the dilapidated mansion once inhabited by the town’s most powerful family. There they discover a mysterious old journal the blank pages of which suddenly and disturbingly fill with stories written in blood by an invisible hand. Each story describes and seemingly triggers a member of the group’s untimely death. Before everyone she knows is killed, Stella must unravel the mystery of the dusty tome and the creepy old house’s former inhabitants.

Set in 1968, at the dawn of the Nixon era and in the midst of the Vietnam War, the film attempts to infuse this horror tale with the volatile mood of the times. While adding a little atmosphere to the setting, this really only acts as a feint backdrop as the monster-attacks don’t connect thematically with historical events of the time and the film doesn’t say anything particularly profound about Nixon’s rein.

Øvredal does, however, successfully build tension in a number of scenes as the characters unwisely creep around in the dark catacombs of the scary old house. He also mixes this tension with a few jolting pop-out scares. There’s a modicum of gore, including one scene that combines the twin anxieties of spiders and pimples, although nothing in this film is as gruesome as the slaughter in the latest Rambo movie.

Apart from Ramon, the group are a little stereotypical with Stella the anxious, nerdy heroine, Augie the tall, serious intellectual who, although it’s not mentioned, must be a Mr Spock fan and Chuck, the group’ annoying floppy-haired stirrer.

In the end we don’t see anything new in Scary Stories but Øvredal delivers a standard horror tale in mostly convincing fashion.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Horror.

Classification: M.

Director(s): André Øvredal.

Release date: 25th Sep 2019.

Running time: 108 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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