Guillermo Del Toro has certainly had a good few years recently. On the back of winning his first Best Picture Oscar for Shape of Water, suddenly the outlook was very rosy for mr Del Toro.
This film is not one that is directed by Guillermo, instead he serves as the screenwriter an producer, basing his script on a children’s book series of the same name, although the film certainly isn’t one that’s suitable for children, instead the directing reigns are taken by André Øvredal, a Norwegian filmmaker who previously made the critically acclaimed Trollhunter in his own country.
So with Del Toro producing and scripting, and an exciting up-and-comer behind the camera, does Scary Stories live up to its promise.
On Halloween night 1968, a group of four teenage friends stumble upon a book of Scar stories hidden in a house with a seemingly grisly past. It doesn’t take long for them to realise that whenever a new story appears, the same events occur in the real world.
As always, I am not an expert at judging horror films. I do enjoy them more than I ever have in the past, and I’m eagerly awaiting It: Chapter 2 next month, but generally a lot of horror films fall into the same trappings, and I find that incredibly tedious.
Scary Stories is not above doing these things, the things in question include, but are not limited to, jump scares, fake-outs, and characters refusing to believe the blatantly obvious, oh and showing too much of the monsters, but we’ll get back to that.
That’s not to say that utilising any of these would instantly make a bad film, like anything it all depends on how you utilise them, sometimes what becomes a cliché becomes that way because it works, and films wouldn’t keep using them if they didn’t, but for me, a horror film lives and dies in atmosphere, I can take or leave something jumping out, but the atmosphere has to be just right to justify it.
For the most part, Scary Stories does a great job in building a thick atmosphere of imminent dread, told through the clever plot device of the story book, which predicts the exact events before they happen, sure, it might make the events a bit more predictable, but it succeeds in building up the suspense of how long this person has left, before the event actually happens.
I’ve also mentioned before my belief that what you can’t see is scarier, and I still believe that, in fact I think the creatures in this film could have done with a bit more mystery about them, after all, when you see the creature in all its glory within its first minute on screen, then you’ve pretty much already seen the worst it has to offer. It will always be scarier knowing there is something behind you, but not being able to look, than ogling your pursuer, in a film I mean, in real life you’d be quite entitled to know who or what was chasing you.
Having said that however, I feel I must praise the monster design in the film, as it is imaginative and creepy as hell. I get the impression that there was a certain influence from Japanese horror, which does the horrifying monster design the best, in a few characters. Although they lose a bit of their mystery, their sheer horrifying looks somewhat makes up for that.
In the character department, the four kids are nothing special, perhaps just a product of their time and genre. The film is set against a back drop of the 1968 election and the Vietnam war, both of which inject a little bit of extra characterisation into the film, but as is usual with horror, they don’t make a great effort to give personality to the people they’ll be killing off anyway, which is sad as it lessens the impact somewhat.
In conclusion then, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark isn’t the best film, but it does what it can with limited resources. It builds a very good atmosphere and combines it with some genuinely creepy monster design. With a bit more time spent on the characters, I may have been more enthused, but as it is, it’s an interesting film plagued with uninteresting characterisation.