I haven’t been as blown away by the horror entries in 2019 as I would have like to have been. The year started strong with Jordan Peele’s exceptional follow-up to Get Out. Us really set the bar. Then things sort of fizzled out with terrible entries like Annabelle Comes Home and then the disappointment that was the overly long and CGI saturated It: Chapter Two. I tried not to get too excited when I saw that the brilliant Guillermo del Toro was producing and co-writing a new horror film based on the popular book series of the same name. When the trailer for Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark first dropped I thought it looked fun. Not necessarily terrifying, but a fun creature film with teenage protagonists. Having enjoyed the work of director Andre Ovredal in the past (Troll Hunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) I was really looking forward to seeing what he could do with the guidance of del Toro.
Scary Stories starts as many a traditional horror have before. Uncool teenagers on Halloween, running away from bullies and ending up in the neighbourhood haunted house telling one another the rumours of what happened to leave the building so empty and foreboding. Naturally they find a cursed book that starts writing stories about each of them, which of course all come true. One by one the haunted book seeks to wipe out all who came into contact with it as the unsettled spirit seeks revenge to attempt to right wrongs from the past. This premise isn’t anything new but fortunately the movie takes no time getting to the point of establishing fantastic protagonists and getting into the horror. Over the next hour or so we follow each of the characters being hunted by creatures from their worst nightmares as the haunted book writes stories of their demise. The anthology-style feel is no doubt a clear nod to the source material and means that there is always something new to engage with which helps with the films pacing in the best way possible.
The young cast deserve to be commended. Often teenage acting can fall on the more melodramatic side and lose the nuance and pathos of more established performers. However this young cast are exceptionally well grounded in their roles, providing both laughs and believable terror as they are flung into a creature-filled nightmare. The script balances the scares and the humour well and is incredibly well paced thanks to the deft eye of its director. Old school horror references galore soak this film in nostalgia. Excellent real life parallels are explored in conjunction with the supernatural creature horror keeping one foot in the reality of the horror of the time(it’s set in the 60s so, Nixon’s election, young men going to war etc etc) provides a more layered meaning below the surface scares if you want to delve a little deeper.
The creature design and execution are stunning. A huge variety of genuinely frightening creatures are spread throughout this film. Fortunately Ovredal relies as much on tension as he does on classic jump scares, meaning that when we do get made to jump from a combination of flashing lights and the exceptional score, it feels well earned. There were times where I was genuinely on the edge of my seat, disturbed by the creature on the screen – or by a creature lurking off screen waiting to strike. There is never a dull moment as the film effortlessly moves from story to story, creature to creature, weaving it all together with a fluidity that keeps us hooked right until the final credits roll. Scares aside, this is an incredibly fun film. It’s like an endless chase scene that only lets you catch your breath when it provides a well-pitched joke along the way. It’s Goosebumps for young adults.
This is up there for one of the horrors to beat in 2019. Highly recommend.