“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” released in August of this year, mostly went unnoticed and unspoken about, and for good reason. I expected much, much more from a Guillermo del Toro production. While never taking itself too seriously and trying to develop a fun, care-free story about kids versus monsters, this is a film that instantaneously starts off horribly and only goes downward.
Set in a small Pennsylvania town in the 1960s during the Vietnam War, a group of misfit teenagers end up visiting a haunted house on Halloween night (one of several cliches throughout the film) and unintentionally awaken a seemingly unstoppable demonic entity from writing stories beyond the teens’ control, unleashing a string of monster attacks on several individuals.
Based on a series of popular short stories, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is such a disappointment due to how fun and exciting the film adaptation could have been. Director André Ovredal could have taken the film in several different creative directions, yet somehow manages to follow the worst possible choice.
The film suffers from the beginning, using a cringeworthy script with dialogue so fake and forced, you’d think you were watching a TV movie on the Disney Channel. None of the teenage characters we follow have any unique personalities, each actor forcing their lines and presenting little to no talent.
It’s clear that the film is trying to be stylized off of hits such as “Stranger Things” and the 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s “IT”. Yet the film forgets what makes those stories so remarkable. Instead of containing obnoxious know-it-all characters, both were grounded in a realistic and genuine emotional force, the characters relatable and highly likable. Not one character in this film connects with the audience — the actors annoying instead of charming; fake instead of sincere.
We as an audience never feel scared because we don’t like or care about anyone involved in the film. What makes many horror films so effective isn’t necessarily how atrociously scary they are, but is rather based on how much we connect to the characters involved in the unsettling situations. Seeing a character we identify with and want to see succeed in peril automatically makes any situation on screen all the more terrifying, yet in “Scary Stories” we never feel one ounce of dread or terror due to how flat and minimal each character is. We don’t know anything about these kids nor do the filmmakers exert any effort for us to learn about who they really are.
Setting up the premise of a sequel that no one wants, “Scary Stories” is too terrible for us to relax and have fun with. While a silly, fun movie is always a guilty treat once in a while, this is too atrocious of a film to take at face value simply because we can tell that the intention was to make a genuinely frightening horror film.
At a time when the horror genre is making an artistic comeback, we don’t want or need awful films of this poor quality and thankfully this type of horror film seems to have become less common.
“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is a complete disaster and such words are a compliment considering how horrible it truly is.
Final Grade: D-
Dominic LeRose is a staff writer for The Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.