Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019) – Film Review

Based on the controversial 1980s children’s book series of the same name, written by Alvin Schwartz and nightmarishly illustrated by Stephen Gammell. The film adaptation of: ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ directed by André Øvredal and co-written/produced by Guillermo del Toro, takes a very different approach than what many may expect when considering its source material, as the film ditches the book’s original anthology structure in favour of a more interconnected story to mixed results.

Plot Summary: On Halloween night, 1968. A group of childhood friends enter the abandoned home of: ‘The Bellows’ family, whose shadow has loomed over the small town of Mill Valley for generations as a result of notorious murder: ‘Sarah Bellows’, who turned her tortured life into a book of scary stories many years ago. But these terrifying tales soon have a way of becoming all too real when the reclusive: ‘Stella’ decides to take-home ‘Sarah’s story-filled journal.

Clearly inspired by Steven King’s classic novel: ‘It’, ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ takes the now-popular route of focusing on a younger cast, capturing that classic spirit of childhood adventure mixed with plenty of light-horror, but rather than setting the film in the hackneyed time-period of the 1980s, the film actually chooses to set it’s story near the end of the 1960s, which I feel helped the film stand-out amongst the ‘It’ remake and it’s many similar incarnations. However, since its release, ‘Scary Stories’ has received plenty of criticism for its underwhelming horror, despite this being a completely intentional decision on-behalf of the filmmakers, ensuring the film as a first-step into the horror genre for younger viewers, never displaying too much violence or overly-intense scares, not too dissimilar to the book series itself.

Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Gabriel Rush and Austin Abrams portray the main group of friends and all do a decent job overall, as while their individual characters don’t exactly break-new-ground, they are likeable enough and have their inklings of both personality and humour. Contortionist Troy James, who once appeared-on ‘America’s Got Talent’, also appears in the film as one of the monsters: ‘The Jangly Man’. Who aside from having some CGI-enhanced facial expressions, actually performed all of his impressively unnatural body movements himself, including walking backwards and crawling upside-down.

Roman Osin’s cinematography does remain visually interesting for the majority of the runtime, having plenty of creative shots with an effective implementation of colour alongside. But its the film’s monsters that are unquestionably the best aspect of this adaptation, as the film takes the horrifying and abstract illustrations of Stephen Gammell and melds them into live-action flawlessly. So much so, that even in spite of each creature’s very limited screen-time, every monster manages to be quite memorable in its own right, from ‘The Pale Lady’ to ‘The Big Toe’ to the dilapidated poster-child scarecrow: ‘Harold’, all of which were brought-to-life through prosthetic make-up and convincing practical costumes, rather than just CGI.

The original score by Marco Beltrami and Anna Drubich is a fairly average horror score, yet does still serve the story well for what it has too, even if most of the tracks aren’t worth looking-up afterwards. But its also within the main score that there a small nod towards the original book series, as one of the tracks that plays throughout the film is titled: ‘The Hearse Song’, which is actually a short song from the book series’ first entry.

As previously mentioned, the main creative decision that seems very peculiar to me is that the film adaptation of: ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ is not an anthology film, despite the books the film is based-on focusing entirely on different characters/monsters with each new story. Instead, the writers chose to create an original story based-around the depraved spirit of: ‘Sarah Bellows’ bringing the stories within her book to-life, which was apparently done in order to stop one of the stories from overshadowing the rest, according to Guillermo del Toro. Yet I personally feel that this makes the film less entertaining, as many of the story’s concepts and creatures feel under-utilised due to this overarching (and occasionally corny) narrative, even if the main story does borrow some of its ideas from other unused tales within the books series.

For the most part, ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ does triumph in its goal of crafting a horror more accessible for younger viewers, as I could see this film appealing to many young audience members in search of a gateway into the horror genre. If you are already a veteran within the genre however, then I feel ‘Scary Stories’ will more than likely disappoint, as the film’s many cliché story-beats and lack of any gore or truly tense moments does result in this adaptation becoming a mostly forgettable horror flick with the exception of its many unique creature designs. A high 5/10 overall.

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This Year in Film (2019) – Film List

Personally, I feel this year in film has been a bit of a mixed-bag, as while I do feel we’ve had our fair share of great films this year, I also feel we’ve had plenty of disappointing entries as well. Obviously, I haven’t had the chance to see every film this year, and I will most likely update this list as time goes on. But for now, in no particular order, here are my thoughts on a variety of films I saw this year…

Joker

Without a doubt one of my favourite films of the year, ‘Joker’ directed by Todd Philips (The Hangover, Old School, War Dogs) is an interesting take on the comic book genre. Focusing more on being an engaging character piece with themes of untreated metal illness rather than your usual barrage of CG action and explosions, all shown through some beautiful cinematography and an eerie original score.

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Knives Out

Director Rian Johnson proves himself a brilliant filmmaker once again after his smash-hit: ‘Looper’, as although I personally wasn’t an enormous fan of: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’. I knew this director had talent elsewhere, and this was proven to me by ‘Knives Out’. A hilarious and clever twist on the classic murder mystery, with some great performances from the huge cast, plenty of plot twists and a well-written narrative. I feel you’d struggle not to enjoy ‘Knives Out’.

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In the Tall Grass

One of many Steven King adaptations from this year, ‘In the Tall Grass’ comes to us from ‘Cube’ director Vincenzo Natali, and with that sci-fi classic being a personal favourite of mine, I had high-hopes for this Netflix thriller despite its somewhat weak source material. However, as the runtime continued on, I soon realised the film was far more interested in attempting to explain its bizarre and messy plot rather than experiment with any of its unique ideas.

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Marriage Story

Standing out mostly for the fantastic performances from the all-star cast of Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, director Noah Baumbach takes on this wonderful story of a couple broken apart by relationship troubles and long distances, which, despite not being anything outstanding in regards to filmmaking, still manages to be entertaining, emotional and very enjoyable from start-to-finish.

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The Silence

Easily one of the worst films I’ve seen this year, ‘The Silence’ directed by John R. Leonetti, mostly known for the awful: ‘Annabelle’ and ‘Wish Upon’. Is another generic horror with weak performances, dreadful CG effects and a plot which feels as if it’s been ripped straight from: ‘A Quiet Place’ released back in 2018.

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Haunt

Although the plot of a group of teens heading into a haunted house on Halloween only to get more than they bargained for may initially sound incredibly over-done, ‘Haunt’ is actually one of the hidden gems of the year in my opinion. Utilising some visually impressive sets and lighting in addition to an array of tense moments and creative ideas, the film is certainly one of the better horrors/thrillers from this year despite its issues.

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Le Mans ’66 (Ford v Ferrari)

After directing one of my favourite films of 2017: ‘Logan’, director James Mangold now takes on the real-life story of the creation of one of the fastest race cars ever built in order to win the iconic: ‘Le Mans ’66’. Featuring some excellent performances from the main cast in addition to some great cinematography and high-fueled racing scenes, ‘Le Mans ’66’ is a true thrill-ride of a film.

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Toy Story 4

‘Toy Story 4’ is definitely one of the most disappointing films of the year for me, as the original ‘Toy Story’ trilogy is (in my opinion) near perfect, and this film seems to do nothing but continue the story for the sake of it. As although the animation is incredible throughout the film, and the performances and original score are also pretty great, the narrative and character-arcs simply let the film down and make it the weakest of the ‘Toy Story’ series for me.

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I Am Mother

This slick science fiction thriller had me excited for quite some-time leading up to its release. However, when I eventually watched: ‘I Am Mother’ I found myself a little disappointed. As the beautiful visuals and solid sci-fi soundtrack are sadly let down by a drawn-out and sometimes bland story. As while not boring by any means, I felt the film was a bit of wasted potential overall.

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It: Chapter 2

Director Andy Muschietti returns to once again bring the demonic clown: ‘Pennywise’ to life in this sequel to the ‘It’ remake from 2017. This time around however, I personally found the film to be a bit of a letdown. As although there were plenty of entertaining scenes and great character moments throughout the film’s extremely long runtime, there were also plenty of ridiculous moments alongside the barrage of enormous CG monsters.

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Crawl

Going off the initial reviews, I originally had high hopes for: ‘Crawl’, hoping it would be an extremely tense, edge of your seat kind of experience. But unfortunately, the film felt like a mostly standard thriller by the end of its runtime. Having nothing more than a few tense scenes and a couple of effective jump-scares to make up for its mediocre CG effects and mostly dull characters.

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Yesterday

Whilst definitely not on the same level as many of the others films from director Danny Boyle’s catalogue, ‘Yesterday’ was still a pretty entertaining feel-good comedy which I felt had an enjoyable upbeat tone, and enough likeable characters to carry it through many of its cheesy moments and sometimes overly predictable story.

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The Platform

Definitely a futuristic thriller fans of: ‘The Belko Experiment’ should check out, ‘The Platform’ is just as violent as it is suspenseful, as this Spanish sci-fi thriller deals with a variety of dark themes and ideas, all whilst keeping the viewer engaged through its interesting plot, decent performances and surprising turns.

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Aladdin

This year’s first entry from the usual barrage of pointless live-action Disney remakes: ‘Aladdin’ is exactly what I expected it to be. The classic story most know and love but incredibly dulled-down, trying to capture the adventure of the original film through an enormous amount of CG visuals, nostalgia and a new cast lead by Will Smith which are all rather bland.

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The Hustle

Although I may not have been the target audience for: ‘The Hustle’, judging by the dreadful reviews from critics and audiences alike, it seems as if I wasn’t alone in finding this comedy just as bland as it was unfunny, with many of the jokes feeling extremely lazy as the film takes all the obvious hits anyone would expect at Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson without attempting much else in terms of humour.

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Velvet Buzzsaw

Despite ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ not quite being the hilarious, gory and extremely weird horror/comedy I was initially hoping for, in addition to going off the back of director Dan Gilroy’s other film: ‘Nightcrawler’ (which is one of my all-time favourites). I still found the film interesting enough throughout its story to keep me watching, despite it not being overly memorable in its entirety.

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Avengers: Endgame

Marvel finally bring their enormous franchise of superhero flicks to an end (for now that is) with ‘Avengers: Endgame’, a blockbuster spectacular which gives many viewers the conclusion they’ve been desiring for many years, and although it isn’t one of my personal favourite Marvel films, I enjoyed: ‘Avengers Endgame’ for what it was. As the film provides some endings for characters alongside plenty of comedic moments, fan service and thrilling action set-pieces.

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Dolemite Is My Name

Based on the real-life story of Rudy Ray Moore, Eddie Murphy makes his awaited return to film after a long break. As this brilliant comedy/drama makes all the right moves to keep its audience engaged within its story through plenty of humour, style and emotion throughout its runtime.

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Jumanji: The Next Level

A sequel to ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ from 2017, as well as the original: ‘Jumanji’ from 1995. ‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ is very similar to the previous instalment in regards to its tone and story (with some elements mixed-up of course) and despite some humour and story moments going a little too over-the-top for my taste. The film is still enjoyable enough for those seeking another fun family adventure from this franchise.

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Unable to actually decide what I thought of the film initially, ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ is a true mixed-bag of a blockbuster, having some fantastic monster action with flawless CG effects and a surprisingly ranged colour palette be completely bogged down by weak characters, cheesy moments and at points, a very messy story.

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Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Director Quentin Tarantino returns to the silver screen once again with ‘Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’. Bringing us a slight subversion of some of his usual film tropes, to focus more on a story of a man seeking his return to fame in Hollywood, all shown through some beautiful cinematography and an excellent 1960s soundtrack.

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Terminator: Dark Fate

Of all the franchises dragging themselves out in an attempt to drawn-in whatever loose profits still remain, ‘Terminator’ has been by far the worst, with ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ only further proving this. Being extremely bland and cliché throughout, this time-travelling sci-fi series truly feels as if it’s got nothing more to offer, even with a talented director at the helm and James Cameron back on-board as a producer, this franchise is now really just a shadow of its former-self.

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John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

In another one of this year’s biggest disappointments, ‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum’ is the third entry in the ‘John Wick’ series, which sadly, leaves a lot to be desired. As many of the trilling and well-executed action scenes are dragged down by a messy and uninteresting story, as well as a variety of extremely out-of-place comedic moments.

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Star Wars – Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

Arguably the most disappointing film of the year for many, ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ attempted to close the enormous legacy of the ‘Star Wars’ saga, which unfortunately failed quite miserably. As overly fast-pacing and an extremely messy (and unsatisfying) narrative really dragged the film down despite its fun moments and exciting action scenes, further proving that this franchise needs a long-rest before it’s inevitable return.

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Spider-Man: Far From Home

Most likely my favourite Marvel film of this year, ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ hardly breaks new ground when it comes to superhero flicks. But the main cast’s great performances mixed with plenty of exciting action and a surprisingly interesting antagonist, leave ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ an enjoyable and mostly faithful comic book adventure for the iconic web-head.

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The Lion King

The second of this year’s live-action Disney remakes: ‘The Lion King’ directed by Jon Favreau, is definitely one of the worst in my opinion, as although the film’s CG visuals are nearly flawless, the film simply lacks any of the charm, heart and overall personality of the original film. Resulting in the remake being nothing more than an overall boring experience.

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Little Monsters

Although the film is help-up by some strong performances and some interesting ideas, ‘Little Monsters’ never manages to break the structure of your usual zombie film. Coming-off as an occasionally fun yet mostly bland horror/comedy, which is just as predictable as it is dull, despite many of its decent comedic moments.

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Serenity

Whilst I personally didn’t dislike ‘Serenity’ as much as many others, the film still suffers from a variety of issues. As director Steven Knight attempted to achieve something very different with this film, which at some points works quite well, and at others doesn’t work at all. As many of the unusual performances and can really drag down the film’s great cinematography and editing.

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Fractured

Overly predictable and formulaic, ‘Fractured’ focuses on the potentially compelling narrative of a father’s family mysteriously disappearing within the walls of a hospital, yet despite its few effective scenes, ‘Fractured’ soon ends-up feeling like a path nearly every-viewer has been down before. Resulting in the film becoming just another forgettable Netflix Original.

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The Lighthouse

Despite my dislike of director Robert Egger’s other film: ‘The Witch’ back in 2016, ‘The Lighthouse’ had me gripped to the screen throughout its runtime. As the film’s black and white colour palette along with it’s eerie original score and intriguing story, leave the ‘The Lighthouse’ a film that’s just an interesting to discuss as it is to watch.

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Parasite

I went to experience Korean director Bong Joon Ho’s ‘Parasite’ mostly due to its outstanding reviews rather than due to its trailers (which I personally found quite poor). But yet, with some absolutely gorgeous cinematography and brilliant performances, ‘Parasite’ is now definitely up-there with some of my personal favourite foreign flicks such as: ‘Oldboy’, ‘Veronica’ and ‘The Host’, in addition to possibly being my favourite release of this year.

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Captain Marvel

One of the blandest Marvel films I’ve seen for a while, ‘Captain Marvel’ focuses far too much on pushing on themes of strong female empowerment that it forgets to actually create a likeable protagonist or an interesting origin story, making the film overall feel simply forgettable more than anything else.

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Zombieland: Double Tap

Surprisingly, Zombieland: Double Tap’ was more enjoyable than I was initially expecting. As while far from as memorable or as enjoyable as the original for me, there were more than a few moments of humour between the cast that had me laughing, despite the film’s tone going even more over-the-top than before.

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The Irishman

Iconic director Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street) returns to bring us another tale of crime and regret with ‘The Irishman’, and while the over three-hour-long runtime can definitely make the film drag at points, the brilliant performances and phenomenal filmmaking are sure to keep those paying attention engaged for the majority of the film’s runtime.

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Us

Director Jordan Peele’s follow-up to his 2017 smash-hit: ‘Get Out’, was a far-cry from excellent for me. As despite the brilliant reviews, I personally found the film’s story to be bloated with rushed ideas and ridiculous scenes, all adding up to a horror flick that placed more focus it’s themes than it’s narrative. Resulting in a film which was just as inconsistent with its tone as it was with its story.

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Hellboy

The latest superhero to get his own remake is the iconic: ‘Hellboy’, with the remake this time falling far, far from the mark. As a ridiculously messy story mixed-with poor CGI effects and dreadful comedic moments, leave the film pleasing no-one, despite David Harbour’s decent performance as the horned anti-hero.

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1917

Made to appear as if it was filmed entirely within one shot, ‘1917’ is a brutal, gripping and engaging story involving two soldiers who set-off in a race against time to save thousands of men from a doomed battle, and while not flawless, the film is definitely impressive for both it’s narrative and filmmaking.

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Fighting with My Family

Directed by actor and comedian Stephen Merchant, ‘Fighting with My Family’ is a light-hearted British comedy-drama based on the true story of WWE wrestler: ‘Paige’ portrayed extremely-well throughout the film by Florence Pugh, and despite a few cringy scenes, ‘Fighting with My Famly’ was a huge surprise for me. As a very investing story and some brilliant moments of humour leave the film a genuinely enjoyable experience that seemingly went under most people’s radars upon its intial release.

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Jojo Rabbit

Heartfelt, emotional and brimming with comedic charm, ‘Jojo Rabbit’ is another one of my favourites from this year. Being a completely different take on the war genre by giving the audience a new view of the events of the Second World War through the eyes of a child. All under the excellent direction of Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok).

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Missing Link

From Lakia animation studio, the production company that brought to life many of my favourite stop-motion animated films, such as: ‘Coraline’ and ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ comes another fun family adventure. Shame this one couldn’t have done better at the box office, as the film is wonderfully put together, featuring plenty of humorous moments alongside the great voice acting and beautiful animation.

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Ready or Not

One of the most surprising films of the year for me, ‘Ready or Not’ may have your usual cliché plot for a modern horror, but somehow the film manages to carry it through. Managing to be extremely funny, gory and fun throughout nearly the entirety of its runtime.

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Doctor Sleep

The long-awaited sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s classic: ‘The Shining’, ‘Doctor Sleep’ attempts to continue the story of the ‘Overlook Hotel’, and does so with mixed results. As although the film does pay plenty of the respect to the original film, I couldn’t help but feel the film doesn’t stand on its own very well, having a mostly predictable story with some pretty bland characters within its nearly three-hour runtime.

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Child’s Play

From the producers of the ‘It’ remake from 2017, this reimaging of the horror classic: ‘Child’s Play’ does have some great elements, such as some hilarious scenes of dark comedy, gory and creative death scenes and even a pretty memorable voice performance by Mark Hamill as the iconic killer doll: ‘Chucky’, and yet, the film never quite manages to escape its remake roots and goofy original idea, usually feeling more unnecessary than anything else.

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Wounds

Regardless of its atrocious reviews from both critics and audiences, I actually quite enjoyed: ‘Wounds’. As although this psychological horror may have some bland cinematography and an overreliance on jump-scares at points, the film’s weirdly unique narrative and main performance by Armie Hammer simply won me over by its end, despite the film being nothing that memorable in the long-run.

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Pet Sematary

In this new remake of Steven King’s classic novel, Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz portray: ‘Louis’ and ‘Rachel Creed’ a couple who move to rural Maine only to soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden within the woods near their new home, and aside from the dark and interesting plot the film provides. ‘Pet Sematary’ is nothing more than a bland jump-scare fest with little focus on building character or atmosphere.

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I Lost My Body

This unique animated French film co-written by the writer of the beloved: ‘Amélie’, is very charming and beautifully crafted throughout the entirety of its tight runtime, with a variety of stunning shots and plenty of creative ideas, ‘I Lost My Body’ is certainly worth a watch despite being overshadowed by many other films released this year.

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Uncut Gems

After many poor attempts at comedies in recent days, Adam Sandler gives one of his best performances in years with ‘Uncut Gems’, portraying a shady jeweller who’s actions and consequences carry the film brilliantly from start-to-finish, despite the film’s shaky cinematography and bizarre original score being a little distracting at points.

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Midsommar

Although I quite enjoyed: ‘Hereditary’, director Ari Aster’s first film from 2017, ‘Midsommar’ was most certainly not for me. Feeling far too pretentious at points with a slow-paced narrative and weak characters, the film’s unique ideas and attractive visuals simply couldn’t save from becoming the boring experience it eventually ended-up being for me, with the exception of another excellent performance by Florence Pugh from this year.

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Unicorn Store

Led by a mediocre and sometimes irritating performance by Brie Larson, ‘Unicorn Store’ attempts to be a fun, colourful and heartwarming tale of a grown woman letting-go of her childhood. Yet unfortunately, the film falls far off the mark for most of these goals, as ‘Unicorn Store’ is more dull and forgettable than the whimsical tale it set-out to be.

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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Whilst I definitely would’ve preferred an anthology-type structure when it comes to an adaptation of the ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ book series, this Guillermo del Toro produced horror does still have some entertainment value, and I could see the film being very appealing to younger viewers desiring a gateway into the genre.

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The Kid Who Would Be King

A decent fantasy adventure for families, ‘The Kid Who Would Be King’ directed by Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) definitely has some areas in need of improvement. As the film is brimming with cheesy moments and a very out-of-place original score. Despite this however, the film still manages to utilise its fun story and exciting action scenes to the best of its advantage, resulting in an entertaining if not perfect family flick.

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