Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark zoe margaret Colletti

Year: 2019
Director(s): Andre Ovredal
Writer(s): Guillermo del Toro, Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: PG-13
Digital, Color, 111 mins

Synopsis: A group of teens face their fears in order to save their lives. (Source)

Perfectly timed to mainstream horror’s renaissance, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is relentless, smart fun. Based on stories by Alvin Schwartz, and reverently translating Stephen Gammell’s iconic illustrations into cinematic nightmare fuel, director Andrew Ovredal’s latest has it all. I always feel that anthologies are an underused genre, and Ovredal makes full use of his source material. He’s merged a myriad of short stories within a single, satisfying story of grief, self-worth and teenage camaraderie. Don’t let the PG-13 rating fool you either. Replete with practical, inventive creature designs and surreal set pieces, this thing doesn’t hold back. This is a film that values both the existential horror that lies beneath the surface, and the physical, supernatural monsters that populate each chapter. 

Set in the middle of the Vietnam War, and on the eve of Nixon’s presidency, the story centers around a group of friends in a small Pennsylvanian town. On Halloween night, Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) are looking to enjoy a night of spooks and pranks as they evade the class bully and bump into a mysterious drifter named Ramon (Michael Garza). They naturally visit a local haunted house, unleashing a vengeful spirit and the sinister circumstances leading to her unrest. As kids around town begin to go missing, Stella, Auggie, Chuck and Ramon scramble to solve a tragic mystery. 

Building from the source material’s YA roots, Ovredal (and screenwriters Guillermo del Toro, Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan) lean hard into melancholy overtones and a piercing loss of innocence. Throughout, there’s a sincerity and heart that doesn’t talk down to its younger audience, making the terror within more pure and relatable. In the way that Ovredal brings each creature and spectre to life with unflinching tangibility, so too does he capture the end of an era and a passage from childhood to adulthood. It’s this mixture of emotional and ambient, tonal realism that gives each scare its weight. If there’s an overarching theme, it’s how stories have the power to heal or hurt, and how they shift and transform as our perspectives change over time. With this idea at the fore, Ovredal blends crowd-pleasing scares while contrasting feelings of helplessness and hope. 

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Austin Zajur

Just like the film’s contrasting creatures, the film’s ensemble offers diverse tonal strengths. At the head of it all, Zoe Margaret Colletti brings a strong sense of empathy and strength. As Stella, she’s fearless, even while balancing inner sadness with a sense of duty. Austin Zajur adds comic relief with Chuck, but is still able to hold down a few more serious moments. Gabriel Rush and Michael Garza are more likable than the usual genre archetypes, solidifying the groups chemistry for a strong, human foundation. Though each actor is great, the real stars here are the insane creature designs and practical effects. I don’t want to say much more, but they’re already iconic.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark understands how to take its symbols beyond skin deep. It also has some of the year’s best scares. Crowds looking for spooky catharsis will find it, but those also looking for more will appreciate the depth. Because of this, the film is a great example of what makes the genre so great. It explores things that we can’t fully express, putting them into a form that we can reconcile. It goes without saying that there’s a lot in here for a kids movie, making it a welcome, mature entry into an overly crowded scene. Whether young or old, Ovredal pinpoints the human ideas that connect kids and adults. It leaves us with the idea that, in life, we can’t always control what happens to us, but we do have a choice in how we let it shape us. 

SG