Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (based on the book series of the same name) follows a group of teens who discover a book of scary stories in a notoriously haunted house in their town. When the book begins to write new tales of its own and kids go missing, the group must find a way to stop the book and its original creator before they themselves meet the same fate.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Review
Despite a strong trailer, there were inklings that this film was going to be another dime-a-dozen mainstream horror flick that offers a methodical and predictable plot structure amidst a couple of scares. Unfortunately, that feeling came to fruition, as the sometimes-effective visuals are not enough to overcome the deep valleys of the dull plot.
In so many ways, Scary Stories just paints by numbers along the path of traditional mainstream horror. The end result is a run-of-the-mill popcorn flick that struggles to justify a runtime in excess of 90 minutes. The pointless exposition and surface-level characters offer nothing to the true heroes of the film (the dark entities from the book) and only mean to dilute their effectiveness on the audience.
The book series screamed for a horror anthology. The short stories fit the model perfectly, allowing a brief top-level plot to lube the gears between each story. Let the unsettling concepts and disturbing imagery from the books work for themselves instead of trying to deliver a lazily-constructed plot that inevitably destroys the world while you're building it simultaneously.
I loved the pale woman and jangly man moments, and in a vacuum they were everything I wanted, but they were surrounded by monotonous dialogue and afterthought subplots. The comedic relief character (featured above) has his brief moments, but he feels as pointless as Dean Norris' downtrodden single dad role that feels more like wasted talent than necessary dramatic flavor.
In hindsight, it would have been much more exciting to see this film get the anthology treatment in the vein of XX, ABCs of Death, or Love, Death & Robots. The quality, diversity, and unexpected nature of those anthologies would have fit the mold far better than an attempt to try and turn the short stories into a mundane mainstream narrative.
I feel like the film was close to being something great. The director clearly has an eye for decent scares and pushes the boundaries of PG-13 with his treatment of the jangly man. But he inevitably concedes too much to safe horror story tropes and doesn't take any chances or challenges. The finished product shows this, giving us nothing new. The methodical process of the plot kills any attempt to develop dread or tension, as you know exactly when things will and will not happen.
Horror films tend to prove, through either success or failure, that taking chances is always better than playing it safe. Scary Stories is an example of the latter, opting to keep it plain rather than take a chance. Sometimes the dare falls short, but far more often than not, the gamble pays off, even if it doesn't fully succeed. If you succeed at being plain, you're still just plain, which was the eventual fate of Scary Stories.
Horror Rating System
Horror Qualifier: 8/10 Horror Quality: 6/10
Film Quality: 5/10