[REVIEW] ‘SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK’ – turn the page, nothing to see here


James Clay// Film Critic


Rated PG-13, 111 minutes.
Director: Andre Ovredal
Cast: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Michael Garza, Dean Norris and Gil Bellows

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is a nice bridge from beginner to intermediate horror for young adults. The book series, written by Alvin Schwartz, was known for its creepy covers and disturbing short stories. But bringing that to the big screen presents a challenge.

The film adaptation, directed by André Øvredal (THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE) and developed/written by Guillermo del Toro (THE SHAPE OF WATER), creates a film that’s heavy on atmosphere, with a dash of creepy monsters and a story that’s awfully pedestrian. 

The tropes are abounded as a group of teenagers, in the fall of 1968, come across the old book owned by local urban legend Sarah Bellows, who was abused for years by her family and allegedly wrote “scary stories” in her book in children’s blood. These stories were born out of the pain of a victim who quickly became a force of evil. 

Each teen has a role to play. Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) is a horror fanatic, August (Gabriel Rush) is a skeptic, Chuck ( Austin Zajur) is a prankster, Ramon (Michael Garza) is from the wrong side of the tracks, and Tommy (Austin Abrams) is a bully. As the stories from Sarah’s book of shadows start to happen in the real world (and kids start disappearing), it’s up to this ragtag group with a can-do attitude to set things straight in the sleepy town of Mill Valley. The setup for the film is simple, yet it can’t help but get bogged down in its contrived mythos. 

Austin Abrams in ‘SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK.’ Courtesy of CBS/Lionsgate.

SCARY STORIES rests somewhere inside the popularity of Stephen King and STRANGER THINGS to a frustrating degree. Most of the scares exist in tiny pockets of the narrative that are too few and far between while it attempts to invoke the politics of its era with little-to-no consequence. Del Toro wrote this script with four other screenwriters, and it shows. There are way too many ideas packed into a story that easily could have coasted on its wealth of creepy monsters. It pains me to say if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the best moments this film has to offer. 

Øvredal’s direction isn’t without merit as he tries his best to impart style into the film. But the world he creates lacks texture or any lived-in quality to feel the history of Mill Valley. Fairly dull. An onslaught of jump scares with the potency of a nerf gun plague the film at every turn despite the notable creature designs.

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is wildly disappointing. Øvredal has the directorial good. His strongest effort, JANE DOE, uncovered a ghoulish tale filled with an eerie presence, humanity and a memorable storyline. Del Toro is a modern legend. His brand of horror is now part of Hollywood legend.

Dull, bland – however, you put it, this is one American folktale that will be collecting dust in your memory shortly after credits roll. 

Grade: C

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK opens nationwide on 8/8.

About author

James C. Clay

James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.