Movie Review: ‘GOOSEBUMPS’ Boasts Kid-Friendly, Spooky Fun

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

GOOSEBUMPS | 103 min | PG
Director: Rob Letterman
Cast: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Jillian Bell, Amy Ryan and Ken Marino

It’s funny how seeing children keep themselves entertained today has a way of making you think about what used to occupy you as a child. Before I knew I had the beginnings of a life-long passion for movies, I read all the time. I never missed a title written by Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein or Beverly Cleary. After time, you want to expand your palette. So, you branch out into different genres and, for me, I went from Encyclopedia Brown to the Choose Your Own Adventure series to R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps.

I didn’t really watch horror movies until about 8th grade; they just never really appealed to me in terms of the viscera it projected for the audience. With Goosebumps, however, it led me to think my way into a horror mindset. It had a way of investing the reader enough into the characters that you immediately didn’t want them to “go into that room”. There were 62 titles in all, which I lost track of as I made my way through junior high and high school. So, when I sat down for the movie GOOSEBUMPS, I was ready for a nostalgic trip to my youth and revisit the books I’d long left behind.

The film opens on Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) and his mom, Gale (Amy Ryan), as they move to Madison, Delaware for a change of scenery after the death of his father. They settle into their new house with the help of Gale’s sister Lorraine (played by the hilarious Jillian Bell from WORKAHOLICS), as well as their new school, where Gale is the new assistant principal; Zach makes a new friend in the terribly awkward Champ (Ryan Lee). While they’re unpacking, he meets the weird next door neighbors in Hannah (Odeya Rush) and her father (Jack Black).

Even though Zach is warned to leave Hannah alone, they spend the day together regardless and she gets in trouble; the night is then capped off with Hannah screaming from within her house. He calls the cops, but to no avail. Zach and Champ go investigating to discover shelves of locked Goosebumps manuscripts. Her father, as it turns out, is R.L., and there’s a reason he wants other people to stay clear of his house. The bungling sidekick that is Champ unlocks The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena, letting the pages literally come to life in the form of the Abominable Snowman. Thus begins the adventure of GOOSEBUMPS as Zach, Champ, Hannah, and R.L. try desperately to keep the monsters at bay.

Jack Black stars as R.L. Stine in GOOSEBUMPS. Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

Jack Black stars as R.L. Stine in GOOSEBUMPS. Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

The movie does a great job of doing a sort-of meta take on the series. Its narrative is structured like a Goosebumps book, in that the protagonist is a fish-out-of-water, tries to fit in but something goes wrong, and a creature (in this case, creatures) gets let loose onto the public. As the movie progresses, it goes further as R.L. uses the writing process in order to problem solve. There are also a lot of in-jokes to satisfy the loyal readers that it becomes part of the fun. That being said, you don’t have to be an avid reader to enjoy the film. It does a lot of dependable camera movement and pace to keep the action going, along with a subtle twist that keeps you on your toes.

The dialogue can be gratingly bland at times, especially in the first act (Champ is difficult to get used to, for example). The story is written by the team of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (BIG EYES), and the screenplay is written by Darren Lemke (JACK THE GIANT SLAYER) and you can tell the difference in writing by how shaky the dialogue is versus how smoothly the story and action advance. Also, not only was Champ difficult to get used to, but Zach was a tough pill to swallow at first. He just comes across as very wooden at first, rather than someone who’s guarded.

Everything gels though once the action gets underway. Though Zach is our protagonist, the real star takes over as R.L. Stine has to take these kids under his wing for the sake of his work. Jack Black is very much in his element as Stine, coming across with a mix of Vincent Price-esque pathos and his own mannerisms. He even pulls double duty as both Stine and the voice of the film’s main villain, the evil ventriloquist doll Slappy, from the Night of the Living Dummy series. By having this setup, it gives a nice symbolism to the author grasping with his own creations, maybe even success.

After the end credits started rolling, I started to get the feel that GOOSEBUMPS would be this generation’s family horror movie, like THE MONSTER SQUAD or HOCUS POCUS. Parents should get a kick out of enjoying something with their kids that can scare them a little, but not traumatize them (looking at you, RETURN TO OZ). Regardless of the annoyances that the teenagers provide, it’s an entertaining movie for families to enjoy…OR IS IT?!?!?! Dun-dun-duuuuuuuuuuuuuuun…

GOOSEBUMPS opens tonight in participating theaters starting at 6 p.m., and opens nationwide tomorrow (10/16).

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.