film horror mystery review thriller

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019) Review

by Ian Morton

Evil books aren’t a new idea in Hollywood, particularly in the horror genre. Whether raising the dead or predicting a foreboding future, it’s an interesting mechanic that immediately sets the tone and pace for an unwitting group of friends to survive through (cus you’ve got to kill a couple of them, right!?). The Evil Dead series probably has the most famous of these books, but given the sheer size of the horror library, there’s always a little more room for a few vile volumes.

In Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the evil book this time contains the scribblings of the mysteriously deceased Sarah Bellows, a young girl to whom scary stories have become a way to get revenge on a world that has all but forgotten her. After a trio of chums stumble upon the dark manuscript while exploring the haunted ruins of the Bellow family estate, shit hits the fan when Stella (our heroine), utters the cursed words, ‘Sarah, tell us a story’.

In asking Sarah to whisper them a tale, Stella inadvertently gets her friends in a remarkable amount of trouble. For you see, once Sarah Bellows makes you a part of her story, the events taking place on paper materialize in real life with dire consequences.

As the plot unfolds and we are introduced to each of the scary stories, its clear to see why producer/writer Guillermo del Toro got involved in the project. Pairing with director André Øvredal – a fellow horror fantasist – the resulting blend of styles culminate into a familiar mash up of monster movies and Aesop/Grimm morality, bottling the mood and making you feel like you’re being read spooky stories around a campfire.

Once you get past the impressive visuals and individual set pieces however, the film starts to run into some problems. In an effort to tie things together, the narrative finds itself scattered with underdeveloped storylines and often becomes a victim of ‘rinse and repeat’ scares.

A particular example of the former comes in the shape of our heroine, Stella. Bogged down almost immediately, threads of backstory are drip fed yet never resolved or even mentioned again. It’s a frustrating practice that’s made even worse with an ending that stinks of sequel bait.

The latter issue comes with the structure of the stories themselves, often culminating in a big jump scare signifying the end of one set piece, only to begin another. It’s strange really, this style is certainly the key to the ‘campfire’ approach the film succeeds in creating but in doing so, it ultimately feels like an anthology rather than a succinct whole.

Thankfully, despite these small irritations, Scary Stories isn’t one to ignore at the box office. Sure, it might not be at the top of your list at the end of the year, but its oozing with enough creepy potential to warrant the bathroom light being left on overnight.

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