Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

The brilliant Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) is back to his roots and favorite genre, the horror thriller, with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, directed by André Øvredal.

Based on Alvin Schwartz‘s children’s book of the same name, the screenplay was adapted by Dan and Kevin Hageman, from a screen story by producer del Toro, Patrick Melton, and Marcus Dunstan.

The whole movie revolves around a book, which is sort of a novelty, and that the book is the villain makes it slightly more interesting that an aggregate of scary shocks.

Like most horror flicks, the tale is set in a small-town, here Mill Valley, Pennsylvania, and on a special day, on Halloween 1968. 
The protagonists of this ensemble-driven saga are young in order to maintain the PG-13 rating and, of course, to reach out the target audience of teenagers and high-schoolers.
A group of high school kids–Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush), Chuck (Austin Zajur) and new drifter Ramon (Michael Garza)  enters a boarded mansion that’s a haunted house.
Owned by a family who ran the paper mill in town, the house has been abandoned for decades. We learn that it was the site of abuse of the family’s daughter, Sarah, who died after spending time in an asylum.

Instead of encountering ghosts, the teenagers meet their bad classmates, led by Tommy (Austin Abrams) and girlfriend Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn), Chuck’s sister.

Instead of lost footage found (the convention of many recent shlocky horror flicks), we have lost book found. While locked in the mansion, Stella finds Sarah’s hidden diary. Brushing off the dust, she begins reading, and the story begins literally on the blank pages.

I am spoiling the fun by noting that each tale leads to the death of one teen. Feeing threatened and challenged, Stella must figure out how to break the curse before each of them dies (sort of ..and then there were none).

At the screening I attended, there were laughs (0r rather nervous gigs), whenever a kid in danger screams aloud and hysterically “Stella! Stella!” The more mature viewers immediately recognize the reference to Brando’s Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

But the story exposition is awkward — the screenplay and story are credited to five writers, one of them del Toro, none of them Tennessee Williams — and Norwegian director André Øvredal struggles with some clunky sequences early in the film.

Less successful is the effort to make political connections to the national scene, on November 5, 1968, when Richard Nixon was elected president, and the Vietnam War (often shown in TV reports).

Lionsgate’s thriller Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has opened with a solid $2.3 million at more than 2,500 locations in Thursday night previews.