Simple, scary thrills

Still from the film Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark.
Still from the film Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark.PHOTO: AP

So is the "Stephen King movie" a genre unto itself now?

This one features young, plucky outcasts, sceptical adults and a ghoul bent on population reduction, starting with the pesky kids. Beneath the town's picture-postcard exterior, the teens find a history drenched in blood.

But look beyond the similarities to the King-penned It (2017, with a sequel coming this year) and a few qualities stand out.

Among them, the craftsmanship. The pacing, editing, character development and visuals are as slick as they come - there is no moment here that feels overlong or wasted. Except for one flaw - the film's framing device of the cursed book - no part of the storytelling feels rushed or incomplete.

There is no overtly romantic subplot, for example, the standard way to make the female protagonist more relatable and therefore make her more worthy of saving when the chips are down.

The device of the forbidden journal that makes real the horrific tales written into it feels clunky and is the film's flaw in execution.

Presumably, the film's creators needed to condense the book series' short spine-chillers into a single, longer horror fest.

But that can be forgiven because of the thought and care that have gone into the creature effects.

Talk about value for money. Because of the specific nature of the curse, which has to do with the art of the horror tale itself, a menagerie of beasties come after the townsfolk.



    108 minutes/Opens today/4 Stars

    The story: In 1968, Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) are three teens who, because of a Halloween prank gone awry, run into stranger Ramon (Michael Garza). For thrills, the four visit the long-abandoned Bellows mansion. Stella finds and takes away a book, an act that will bring a curse on all townspeople, including the kids. Based on the children's book series of the same name.

Norwegian director Andre Ovredal, perhaps under the influence of Oscar-winning producer Guillermo del Toro (The Shape Of Water, 2017), believes in the goosebump-raising power of stillness.


The camera lingers on the uncanny faces and physiques of the creatures, giving the viewer time to feel the chills. That patience has largely vanished from most Hollywood horror flicks, which are now fixated on bathing everything in buckets of blood and slime and twitchy monsters that move at hyperspeed.

Here, each exquisitely visualised night creature is tied to a simple, specific phobia - of spiders, human-sized statues, arm and leg joints swinging in the wrong direction - and the result is a kids' adventure thriller that does not compromise on scares.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2019, with the headline 'Simple, scary thrills'. Print Edition | Subscribe