SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK (2019)

  • Release Date: 09/08/2019
  • Director: André Øvredal
  • Cast: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Kathleen Pollard

Four kids (Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, and Austin Zajur) on the night of Halloween, venture into a haunted house that was rumored to contain the spirit of Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard). Sarah was a psychotic who had hung herself in the same house and then went on to haunt and murder multiple children. Stella (Colletti) finds Sarah Bellows’ book that still contains all the stories that she had written and brings it back home with her. The kids are not aware that their actions have just unleashed a chain of events that would bring death and destruction to them and their near and dear ones as Sarah’s spirit is set free and starts coming after the four kids using her book as a means to encapsulate their brutal ends in the form of her stories. The kids must now race against time to understand Sarah’s past and find a way to stop her.

This is a very well made film that is not only ripe with genuine scares but also has some decent performances. That is something that has been missing from horror films of late. Most of the cast comprises of young adults instantaneously charging up the film with performances that are buoyed with energy and a sense of awe. The four primary characters do enough to garner our attention and make us care for them. We want them to be safe as we have formed a connection with them over the course of the film. Also since they are merely kids, we want them to be as far as possible from harm’s way. However, that is something that doesn’t happen and some of the most likable people from the cast are brutally killed off.

The majority of the scares are extracted from four set pieces that are based on four short stories that Sarah Bellows rights in her book of dread. Each of the stories involves the kids and unfolds in a different milieu adding to the visual palette. The creatures involved in the stories are straight out of the illustrations from the actual stories on which this film is based. They are done with such efficiency that one would feel as if the sketches from the book came to life. The only complaint that I have here is in the rendering of one of the ghastly characters that suffer primarily because of a crippling budget and its effect on the CGI work as it would seem. Other than that the makers nail the creatures and the scary bits with perfection.

A large chunk of the success of the scares has to be attributed to the wonderful editing and cinematography of the film. Take for instance the sequence involving a kid who is murdered by a creature that has a toe missing. As this story unfolds the sequence cuts back between the actual attack and the kid’s friends in the background who are seeing his story unfold in the book. They try to rush in to save him but to no avail. This cut back is done with such efficiency that it enhances the fear factor of the whole set-piece. A similar thing can be said about the sequence in a hospital where a pale fat creature engulfs one of the characters. The director builds to this sequence with such efficiency that it becomes almost impossible to bear the tension culminating in a harrowing ending. But the cake for the best character design and scary bits will be taken by “Harold” the scarecrow. I believe the ones who have read these stories in their childhood will find a lot more to love and hate (maybe) in these sequences. For me, it was something that I had not experienced before and hence it was mighty entertaining and fresh.

Zoe Margaret Colletti and Michael Garza deserve the top credits for the performances. They are present almost throughout the film and never getting repetitive or boring. Colletti’s character has an uncanny link with the marauding spirit that is revealed in the end and that makes her character that much more important. Michael Garza is a tad bit too cool and suave for a kid that he is playing but that doesn’t meddle in his performance or for that matter in his likeability. Gabriel Rush and Austin Zajur do their bits well and are used as the perfect ghost fodder. They try to bring some fun elements to the story and partially succeed. But in the end, their characters are there just to fall prey to vicious attacks by the spirit and leave us distraught. That’s what they do and they do it well.

A film like this is in strong keeping with the mood and feels of the Halloween season and would have worked even better had it released during that time. I didn’t expect this film to be half as good as it turned out to be. I watched it because of the overwhelmingly good reviews that it was garnering and for the fact that I love horror films. The scares were good. The story was interesting. The visuals worked and the overall look and feel of the film crawled under my skin in the right ways. The performances extracted enough from the audiences to merit some care for the characters and the film ends with an interesting twist that I liked. I feel that is more than what we could have asked from a film like this.

Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)   

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