Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

This adaptation of Alvin Schwartz’s titular books of horror fiction for children doesn’t quite seem to know what it wants to be when it grows up. Things are off to a strong start thanks to the small-town-on-Halloween-night setting and likable characters, but not before long, the film starts to fall apart in front of your eyes. Once the plot kicks in, all the things that made the first thirty minutes so engaging are eroded in favor of an unimaginative, repetitive structure that constantly forces its literary roots into the forefront instead of finding an organic way to adapt its selected short stories. The on-screen versions of the short stories aren’t particularly interesting, and the climax is somehow both overstuffed and tediously underwhelming. It’s really a shame, because the four young protagonists are extremely well cast and their individual arcs are genuinely interesting, but the movie inexplicably goes out of its way to keep them separated from one another even though the inter-group dynamics are one of the few truly effective aspects of the movie. There are flashes of inspiration here and there, but it’s just barely enough to warrant sitting through the movie, particularly in light of its ludicrously unjustified two-hour running time.

Rating: ★★ (out of 5)

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