REVIEW: The ‘Scary Stories’ here weren’t too frightening

This is one of those movies where I don’t really know who the audience was supposed to be. “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” carries a PG-13 rating and has some serious subject matter but there are times where it feels like it’s made for a younger audience.

The movie mainly follows three friends, Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur), who meet another teen on Halloween named Ramon (Michael Garza). After pissing off some jocks with a prank, the four eventually find themselves at an old abandoned house and stumble upon a book.

Allegedly, there was once a woman who lived in the house and wrote scary stories which resulted in the deaths of youths in the community. That book just so happens to be found by Stella, who opens it and reads a few entries. It turns out to be a mistake, though, as new entries in the book begin to appear and lead to the disappearances of teens in the town.

Tone is an important thing in movies. It can set the mood for a film and clue an audience in to just how grizzly a horror movie might be. It’s something that “Scary Stories” kind of fumbles. The movie does in fact have some frightening imagery, creative monsters and serious themes, even taking place during the era of Nixon and the Vietnam War.

However, at the same time, the humor, character actions and even the development and execution of the scary stories resulting in deaths were somewhat immature. There were times where the movie was more akin to something like “Goosebumps.”

As a result it’s not as easy getting invested in what’s happening here. Some of what’s displayed on screen is indeed creepy but the movie also doesn’t push many boundaries and never gets too scary.

scaarystories
Courtesy CBS Films.

In terms of story, “Tell in the Dark” follows a fairly straightforward “kill someone off one-by-one” formula, which was fine. Plus, the movie was never dragged out, clocking in at a good hour and 40 minutes. However, the ending to the movie was a complete wreck.

The characters didn’t help much here, either. With the exception of Stella, most of the teens here are unlikable and don’t have many endearing qualities. Most of the time they’re more annoying than anything. It’s not too surprising since young characters in horror movies aren’t the most compelling, but one appreciates when a flick at least tries to breaks the mold.

In all fairness, the young cast did alright work here. Performers such as Colletti, Garza and Zajur are all convincing and have a nice camaraderie portrayed. One just wishes the characters they portrayed were better.

As previously stated, visually, “Scary Stories” is strong. There’s a great sequence featuring a scarecrow with fantastic creature effects and a setting to give the movie a great fall/Halloween season feel. There’s another scene taking place in a hallway illuminated by nothing but red lights and the filmmakers knocked it out of the park with how it looked.

The concept, some of the performers and especially the visuals gives “Scary Stories” some value. However, the inconsistent tone and nature of the flick, along with an unlikable crew of characters made this one difficult to get fully invested. Plus, the ending drags things down more. 2.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

I'm a reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer in Minnesota, and I also have a passion for the art of film. This passion led me to start writing about film in 2008. From 2008-2016 I wrote pieces at my own website, After the Movie Reviews. Then, from 2016-May 2018, my write-ups were featured on AreaVoices, a blog network run by Forum Communications Company. Today, I write film reviews and other pieces here on Word Press. More about me: I'm a 2009 graduate of Rainy River College and a 2012 graduate of Minnesota State University in Moorhead. At MSU, I studied journalism and film. Outside of movies, I enjoy sports, video games, anime and craft beers.

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