It's 1968 in America. Change is blowing in the wind...but seemingly far removed from the unrest in the cities is the small town of Mill Valley where for generations, the shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large. It is in their mansion on the edge of town that Sarah, a young girl with horrible secrets, turned her tortured life into a series of scary stories, written in a book that has transcended time-stories that have a way of becoming all too real for a group of teenagers who discover Sarah's terrifying tomb.Written by
To my surprise, this movie was not what I was expecting at all. From the title, I was sure I'd see a portmanteau movie of unconnected short stories, similar to 1983's "Twilight Zone: The Movie". But with a kid-centric plot and set in a small American town, the formula is similar to "It" or "Super 8". However, the episodic nature of serial "incidents" aligns it more with the style of the "Final Destination" films.
Stella Nicholls (Zoe Margaret Colletti) is a horror geek and aspiring writer living in Mill Valley, a small Pennsylvanian town during the Nixon election of 1968. Stella has a couple of friends: the requisite Scoobie Doo Shaggy character Chuck (Austin Zajur) and the 'sensible' "it's all science" character Auggie (Gabriel Rush). But pursued by local hoodlum Tommy (Austin Abrams), Stella, Chuck and Auggie are thrown together with draft-dodging outsider Ramón (Michael Garza).
They escape into the local spooky house - a house where legend has it that terrible things were done to a strange albini girl, Sarah. That legend has it that Sarah used to tell local kids scary stories through the walls. And Stella finds a book... a book that appears to be unfinished....
This is a time when horror films are either "old school" or more psychological in nature (like "Hereditary"). This one has Guillermo del Toro's hand behind that of lead-writers Dan and Kevin Hagerman. And it's firmly old-school. There are some effective (but at times comically created) spooky moments that are scary without being hugely gory. This earns it a UK15, rather than a UK18, certificate. It's disappointing that doesn't stretch to 12A to attract a younger teenage audience, since the source material is actually from a "Goosebumps"-like set of short stories by Alvin Schwartz.
The story's 'episodes' are nicely varied. At the gross-out end of the scale is an episode with Chuck's sister Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn) that might get arachnophobes running for the exits. My personal favourite? A 'red room' episode with the oncoming fate comically arriving in slow-motion like the steam-roller in "Austin Powers"!
This is another film that relies on the quality of its young cast, with the only moderately well-know cast name being Gil Bellows as the local sheriff. In this regard, the stand-out performance is that of Zoe Margaret Colletti who does a fabulous job as Stella. She's been in a few films in the past ("Annie", "Wildlife" and "Skin") but this is her breakout performance in a starring role. She's done her CV a great favour here.
Directed by "Troll Hunter" director André Øvredal, I really enjoyed this one. I'm not a massive fan of 'slasher' style horror films. I have no burning desire to be constantly reminded of what the inside of my body looks like. So this turned out to be much-more to my liking than the normal horror flick. It had enough spookiness to make me turn on the lights when I got back home, but not enough to pervade my dreams.
The young cast perform well. They are given enough back-story and personality by the script to make you care about their fate.
So overall, this one comes with a "Recommended for wimps" (like me)!
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