By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
For older teens and adults there’s no shortage of horror in cinema to thrill and entertain this age range. For children, the Goosebumps movies will certainly do the trick, but until now, there really haven’t been too many horror feature films aimed at young teens. This particular movie is tailor made for that often neglected age group that is too savvy for juvenile frights, but may not be ready for hard, R-rated material. Based on the popular book series by Alvin Schwartz, Scary Stories manages to up the ante just enough to creep out young teens, but without subjecting them to shocking gore and adult material that would concern parents.
In 1968, while the surrounding world is changing and in turmoil, the small, unassuming town of Mill Valley carries on about its business. It is Halloween night and high school students Stella Nicholls (Zoe Colletti) Augie Hildebrandt (Gabriel Rush), and Chuck Steinberg (Austin Zajur) are trick or treating and seeking revenge on school bully Tommy Milner (Austin Abrams). When their plan for revenge goes awry, they manage to hide in the vehicle of teen runaway Ramon Morales (Michael Garza).
Once things have calmed, the group including Ramon decide to visit a legendary abandoned house believed to be haunted. While stumbling about in the dark and investigating the remains of the house, the teens discover a seemingly harmless book of scary stories. Fascinated with the book, as well as the house’s sordid history, Stella decides to bring her discovery with her. This unwittingly unleashes some evil spirits which will soon disturb the usually quiet small town.
With a screenplay by Dan and Kevin Hageman based on a story by Guillermo Del Toro, Patrick Melton, and Marcus Dunstan, director Andre Øvredal has made a decently entertained and thrilling movie, but on that is uneven and inconsistent. Øvredal and his crew have done a great job of creating the setting, building the mood and tension, as well as composing the visuals, but not every segment of the film is as consistently scary or creepy. In fact, only two of the four chapters really deliver the creepy goods. The writers develop most of the main characters adequately, and most of the young actors portraying them put much energy and gusto into roles, making them even more interesting and compelling.
My favorite character of the film is Stella Nicholls and young actor Zoe Colletti delivers a great performance in this role. Stella serves as the heart of the film and makes for a most compelling character. Stella is a smart and good-hearted young lady, but one tormented by a sad past. Nicholls brings much heart and passion to her character. The movie also features great work by Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams , Dean Norris, Gil Belliws, and Natalie Ganzhorn. I wasn’t too impressed with actor Austin Zajur whose character, Chuck Steinberg, is meant to serve as comic relief . Zajur often comes across as stiff, forceful, and unnatural, making his character more of an annoying distraction in the movie.
Still, though the movie does have its weaknesses, I can honestly see younger teens really enjoying this serving of creepy and occasionally grotesque frights on a Saturday get together at a friend’s house. Parents also won’t have to worry too much about the content, as the imagery and violence isn’t as intense or disturbing as that of a horror flick that truly earns its R rating. I personally wouldn’t recommend spending top dollar to see Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in a theater, but if one’s teens are so inclined to see it, one could do much worse.