Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark Review: Tells A Chilling, Albeit Subtle, Ghost Story

Updated: Sep 23, 2021

What is it about scary stories that makes them so enamouring? The idea of ghostly hauntings continues to thrill all ages even to this day and it does in a variety of mediums; but happens when scary stories come to life? That is the concept that manifests itself in the new horror film Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Directed by Andre Ovredal Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is based on the book series by Alvin Schwartz. Along with being an adaptation, this film featured the contribution of acclaimed filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro who produced the movie and helped with the story. Needless to say it never hurts to have Del Toro attach to a project such as this one. The preview for this film looked promising as the twisted imagery was enough to peak my interest. So, while it took me a bit to see it, I had a chance to endure this new horror film and although it did not frighten me out of my seat, I must say Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was still an engaging ghost story.   

This ghostly plot centers on a group of teenagers who, while exploring a haunted house, find the book of mysterious Sarah Bellows. However when Stella (Zoe Colleti) takes the book it awakens Sarah and curses the kids to suffer the stories that the spectre conjures to life. The plot was indeed a spooky tale, but it was a little too simplistic for its own good. The narrative made sense as it centered on the haunting of each kid but it could be formulaic in its delivery. Fortunately the plot had plenty of tension to it, and the mystery behind Sarah Bellows was enough to keep me invested. Scary Stories sticks to the type of storytelling that has worked for so many horror stories before it, and while that may not be original, it remained effective enough to be enticing.

The cast of this horror film was a hit and miss group of characters. There was plenty of character to this cast, which was a little surprising, but what contradicted this was the limited time some of the characters had. Aside from Stella and Ramon Morales (Michael Garza) characters like Chuck (Austin Zajur),Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn) had limited screen time which led to a sense of inconsistency within the cast’s development. Then again neither Stella or Ramon were impervious from this as some of their aspects were vaguely defined.  Supporting characters like Tommy Milner (Austin Abrams) and Police Chief Turner (Gil Bellows) were typical characters for a horror movie, but they did serve a purpose. In the case of villains Sarah Bellows was a formidable one as her presence was atmospheric. While there were some issues with the cast it was still an effective factor for the movie as the performances and decent direction led to a group that was suitable for a horror film such as this one. 

A solid story and cast is all well and good but a horror film is only as good as its scares and in the case of Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark the horror was good. The horror had sense of atmosphere to it which was seen in the creativity of each haunting. The Red Room sequence was particularly good as it created a gripping tension. However what held this aspect back was the over reliance of certain techniques-particularly the jump scares. Jump scares can be good so long as they are used effectively, but unfortunately that was not the case for this movie as it use of startling moments borderline on being obnoxious. Despite this issue one element that aided in the film’s horror was its use of effects. Along with a good sense of practicality, elements such as the creature design truly bolstered this aspect as each monster was impressive in both their looks and their executions. The music by Marco Beltrami and Anna Drubich was decent as it did work for the movie’s concept but also lacked in having a lasting impression. 

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark was a thrilling time to say the least. The likes of story and characters were a bit standard for a film such as this, and the use of jump scares could be tiring. However, the movie was able to stand out thanks to its creative presentation and despite element like the story being basic the movie clearly understood its material. In the end Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark may not be the most spine tingling of hauntings, but it managed to conjure up a few good frights which was more than enough to make a chilling ghost story.

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