Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Hawk: Given the drought of theatrical movies available (for obvious reasons), I’ve had to plunge the depths of the streaming services to catch up on movies I haven’t seen but always intended to. The most recent film on offer was Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The 2019 film is based on the books of the same name from ’80s, and if you read them, you may recall that some of them were significantly messed up, in a “gonna convince my mom to buy this book for me before she figures out the subject matter” kind of way. They were still children’s books, mind, but they definitely weren’t as benign as Goosebumps. This long-anticipated film, produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by Andre Oreval (Trollhunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe), takes six of the originally unrelated stories and unites them under an overarching story. Here, a group of teens in the late ’60s come across a book written years ago by an abused teen. Like most books in films like these, it is very, very cursed.
The book somehow writes itself, each time involving the name of one of the main characters and spelling out the horror about to befall them. Said horror is, truth be told, surprisingly intense and visceral for a PG-13 horror movie aimed at younger teens. It’s not necessarily graphic, per se, but the fates of the doomed are far from pleasant. A bully gets stabbed with a pitchfork by a scarecrow before turning into a scarecrow himself, gagging and vomiting hay. A boil on a girl’s face turns out to be filled with thousands of spiders. Someone else is slowly absorbed into the body of a monstrous woman. Again, not much of this is actually graphic, but the implication of what’s happening is surprisingly grim.
In another pleasant surprise, the film follows a recently popular and effective brand of horror in which the scares are intrinsically interwoven with grief and pain. Main character Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) is still mourning the sudden departure of her mother, in addition to holding her father (Dean Norris) together as both of them grapple with the reason for her leaving them. The author of the book, Sarah Bellows, wrote the book out of the anguish stemming from her abuse. The stories are tailored to the individual pains and regrets of the starring characters, and seeing as this is the ’60s, racism is still heavily factored into the prominent cultural zeitgeist. It’s not a perfect film, but it ticks off a lot of boxes and is a very well-made, effective teen horror flick that keeps things relatively light on the jump scares and heavy on the tension and thematic weight.