There’s some fine pedigree behind 'Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark', including Alvin Schwartz who wrote the book series the film is based on, co-screenwriter and producer Guillermo del Toro hot off the Oscar winning ‘The Shape Of Water’ and director André Øvredal who directed 'Trollhunter'.
It is Halloween 1968 and three teenagers set off into the night to have some fun but get more than they bargained for when they enter the old haunted mansion of Sarah Bellows. Most prominent is Stella (Zoe Colletti), an aspiring writer in a story that will deal with themes of storytelling. In the background thrums the Vietnam war, Nixon’s run at the Presidency, racial prejudice and social change in small town America.
The look of the film is first rate, even the daytime is oppressively grey and bare. There is an air of unease to everything, effort is put in to make the main characters well-rounded individuals, and the performances from the cast are solid. Yet it never quite ties together, as another person dismisses what is happening you can guess whose head will be on the chopping block next.
While the period of time is referenced, it is not developed further into a stronger type of social commentary or metaphor. As background, it remains just that and that is not enough.
The monsters are suitably creepy, there is some neat camerawork building up to the scares and even some gross elements that are classic del Toro. Interestingly, the gore is light. This could be a good gateway film for young teens and budding horror fans. Yet as a scary movie it is not terrifying for the most part and as a character-driven story it does not always have the goods there either, with occasional inconsistencies or poor motivations. There is some humour sprinkled throughout and there is weight to the tale that is told.
‘Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark’ is nothing outstanding but it is an entertaining enough diversion with some ambition and depth to it. It has something to say about the stories we tell and what are the scariest ones of all. It just isn’t one of the best or scariest itself.