“Stories heal, stories hurt.”
Set in Mill Valley, Pennsylvania, André Øvredal’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a unique, new, and intense psychological thriller that pits a group of teenagers against a horrifying legend where ultimately anything is possible.
Based on the trilogy of popular books by Alvin Schwartz, Scary Stories dials in on Zoe Margaret Colletti’s Stella, a young adolescent who is still dealing with her mother’s sudden departure years before. When she meets up with a pair of horribly dressed friends on Halloween, they have one thought in mind: seek vengeance on a group of jocks who long to generate chaos and panic.
Though a bit predictable and overall bland during its first act, Scary Stories patiently sets the stage. Building tension through music and fully utilizing its 1968 setting, Øvredal adequately introduces the film’s leading players while giving viewers a wistful nostalgia vibe reminiscent of genre classics Children of the Corn and Carrie.
As the kids effectively break into the Bellows’ mansion, the town’s haunted house, a slew of events take place that overbearingly introduces us to the horror that rests within the confines of the film’s central story. From unexpected foreshadowing to the discovery of the book that writes itself, we find ourself caught up with Sarah Bellows’ painful story and how she now tells scary stories from behind the house walls to anyone willing to lend their ear.
Playing more on the psychological side of scary than encompassing any real degree of horror, Scary Stories effectively center itself at the forefront of your mind as each of the house attendees find themselves present within the pages of Sarah’s now “borrowed” book. And while the effects of the theft and Stella’s intentional request for a story are apparent to those of us watching on, you find yourself sympathizing with the underage kids who are each battling external demons of their own.
What sets Scary Stories apart from similar films lies within its originality and its ability to craft unique and mind jarring segments within the context of its larger narrative. Much like its source material, Øvredal is successfully able to give each kid’s untimely demise a fresh look and an exclusive path, often one that matches the character’s specific fear and personality.
When the semi-twist hits and we find ourselves face to face with a timely issue that was sadly just as timely then, many will be frustrated with the possible “politics” that lie deep within the story’s nucleus. Thankfully the reveal doesn’t prove to be instrumental to the film. Instead, it sets the stage for a showdown that both sets up a sequel and provides for a fitting conclusion.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark does not recreate the excitement or the nostalgia like It did two summers ago. However, Øvredal pulls from producer Guillermo del Toro’s insane visual mind to create a series of truly remarkable characters that are equally stunning and horrific. It is their presence that gives the film its undeniable edge.