It is Halloween 1968 in America and three high school friends meet for trick-or-treating. They are all outsiders. Stella (Zoe Colletti) is a nerdy girl who writes horror stories, August (Gabriel Rush) is a lanky mother’s boy and Chuck is a portly kid with revenge on his mind.
Every Halloween, they are tormented by local bully Tommy (Austin Abrams) but this year it will be different. Plastering his car with rubbish, they seem to have had their revenge until Tommy and his friends give chase. When local drifter Ramon (Michael Garza) hides them in his car at a movie-drive in, Tommy’s gang corners with baseball bats. Staring Tommy down, Ramon embarrasses Tommy into leaving. With their plans ruined, Stella offers to take everybody all to “a real haunted house” by way of a thrill.
Arriving at the decrepit Bellows family mansion, the three friends regale Ramon with the story of local legend Sarah Bellows. Imprisoned by her family she would write scary stories in the basement. However, when Stella finds a secret room with Sarah’s storybook, she can’t resist taking it away with her.
Unknown to her, this book has the power to write itself. Forming scary stories based upon whoever reads its pages, Sarah Bellows will have revenge on whoever dares read its pages.
... the tone feels familiar, even if the exact spelling of the premise is a little different.
Director André Øvredal’s ‘Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark’ is a very conventional horror story. Whilst producer Guillermo Del Toro’s fingerprints are all over the monsters when they come, its central McGuffin is a familiar one. With a book that foretells the grisly fates of its readers, the tone feels familiar even if the exact spelling of the premise is a little different. Couple this with four decently played leads, banded together in a nerdy, teenage gang navigating a fantasy plot and things don’t feel that stranger than normal.
Sadly this is where ‘Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark’ writes itself into a corner. With a set up so closely resembling many other teenage dramas, its formulaic workings take you where you’ve been before. Without the necessary sparks to outshine the originality of its peers, André Øvredal’s handsomely-mounted movie fails in its largest regard. It just isn’t scary. Not for adults and not for thirteen-year-olds either, ‘Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark’ fails to trade in on its attractive title. With a climatic monster that closely resembles James McAvoy in ‘Split’, we are also given the period cob-webbings of ‘The Conjuring’ series to chill us. All of which brings us to a depressing addendum.
Replete with a de facto carry-over to sequel territory, ‘Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark’s franchise intentions becomes writ large from the page to the screen. Competent and coherently told, these stories aren’t another conjuring but neither will they force you to watch them with the lights turned on.