Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (André Øvredal, 2019, USA/Canada)

After the tremendous success of IT, it was only a matter of time before an adaptation of Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark hit the big screen. The film - which was in various stages of production limbo for years - has arrived with an interesting and talented production team behind it including Guillermo del Toro, who wrote the screen story. 

From the start I was curious about how the filmmakers would approach this material. On the one hand, Schwartz's books are ostensibly for kids. Yet adults undoubtedly form the core audience. And the material in the books - due in large part to Stephen Gammell's incredibly macabre artwork - is filled with violence, gore, and disturbing imagery. It's conceivable that the filmmakers could have taken an adults-only approach with the material. However, with studio involvement it is unlikely this would have ever happened.

Instead the film takes a PG-13 route, which somewhat hampers the darker and more disturbing aspects of the original books. And instead of doing a pure anthology, the film is anchored together with a Stranger Things-style narrative involving a group of misfit kids who find a haunted book and must dig into their town's troubled past to find answers to their dilemma.

The narrative is passable, but quite familiar, and it rather feels like a structure on which to hang some of the most memorable short stories from Schwartz's collection. This is where the film shines. Andre Overdal has a knack for creating memorable creatures which feel organic and textured, as he did in his memorable feature debut Trollhunter. 

The original short stories are integrated well into the narrative of the story, and don't feel forced. I had wished to see more stories brought to life on screen, but at just under two hours, the film already feels too long. The problem is that a lot of the exposition is simply not as interesting as the material from the stories. The writers do their best to remedy this, infusing the story with a backdrop of the Vietnam War and the Nixon election to give it some weight.

While the end result is likely to disappoint some fans of the books, Scary Stories is ultimately a solid "beginner horror" film for younger kids, and delivers enough atmosphere to hold the attention of older viewers. 

7/10

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