Review: ‘Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark”, Also Known As Underwhelming Stories To Wait To Watch On Netflix

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, a collection of short stories by Alvin Schwartz that many of us read as children, is the newest book to film adaptation to grace our screens. October 31st, 1968 was going to be a quiet night for Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) in Mill Valley, her small Pennsylvanian hometown. After a little prodding, Stella is instead roped into some mischief by her two best friends Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur). The three of them have been bullied by the most stereotypical jock possible, Tommy (Austin Abrams) and his goons, and decide it is time to strike back. Of course, their plan gets out of hand and they find themselves hiding in Ramón’s (Michael Garza) car. None of them know Ramón, but it looks like they have all become friends at first sight and their wolfpack of three has instantly become a wolfpack of four. Their adventures continue to the old Bellow’s family mansion, which is rumored to be haunted. The Bellows were said to have locked away one of their children, Sarah, and subjected her to a life of solitude and abuse. Sarah found solace through writing a collection of scary stories in a book.

It doesn’t take long for Stella to stumble upon Sarah’s hidden bedroom deep within the foundation of the house and her book of stories, almost as if someone – or something – wanted her to find it. Stella peruses some stories in the book and decides to take it home with her, a completely reasonable idea that could have no negative consequence in the slightest. Almost immediately, Stella notices a new story in the back of the book – a story that is centered around good ole neighborhood bully Tommy. As one could guess, the story does not have a happy ending. When Tommy isn’t at school and seemingly disappears, Stella’s Spidey sense begins tingling. Stella has had enough of the book and promptly goes back to the Bellow’s mansion to put it back where she found it. Of course things can never be that easy and the book magically reappears in her bedroom, and to Stella’s horror a new story begins to write itself out on the page in front of her – this time focusing on someone much closer to her than Tommy.

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark doesn’t truly establish what it is and what it is going for. It never fully commits to being a scary movie, or a comedy – at times it felt like it was directed at a younger audience, and at moments clearly an older one. It seemed to be floating in movie purgatory with no real genre attached and no clear direction and this lack of vision and focus ultimately made the film suffer. Director André Øvredal fails to establish a sense of dread within the film – that ominous and uneasy feeling where the audience knows terror can strike at any moment. Instead we are left with a few cheap jump scares, a couple decent monsters, and one awful one that really made me think that Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark has to be a comedy. Schwartz’s novel provided a solid foundation for Øvredal and a humongous writing team composed of Guillermo del Toro, Dan and Kevin Hageman, Marcus Dunstan, and Patrick Melton to work from – however Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is not able to capitalize on it. The premise is interesting, but the film falls well short of what it could have been. At its best Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is a poor man’s Final Destination, and at its worst it is…bad. Don’t be in a rush to catch this one in theaters, but the good news is whether you watch Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark or you happen to skip it entirely, you’ll still be able to sleep soundly at night.

Rating: 2 out of 5