'Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark': Well-crafted and engaging (IANS Review, Rating: ***)

By Troy Ribeiro

Film: "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark"; Director: Andre Avredal; Cast: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhom, Austin Abrams, Kathleen Pollard; Rating ***

Director Andre Avredal's film, "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" is a clever and well-crafted adaptation of Alvin Schwrtz's ubiquitous horror series of three books of short stories that first appeared in 1981. It is a one master narrative, that is smoothly told with plenty of harrowing twists and replete with gruesome effects, but it never gets under your skin.

Set in Mill Valley, a small Pennsylvania town in the fall of 1968, as then President Richard Nixon prepares for the elections and Halloween is near, Stella (Zoe Colletti) a smart, horror-obsessed, loner decides to dress up as a basic witch while her best friends Chuck (Austin Zajur) and Auggie (Gabriel Rush) dress up as a version of "Spider-man" and a clown, respectively.

They hit the streets and get into head-on collision with Tommy Milner (Austin Abrams) the local bully, only to find themselves running for cover in the darkness of a drive-in theatre. Soon the trio stumble upon Ramon Morales (Michael Garza) a mysterious, a Latino drifter who is passing through town.

Together, the four of them wind up hiding in a local haunted house, where Stella picks up an old leather-bound book. The blank pages of the book soon begin to fill up with gory unseemly tales scrawled in blood, authoring the hideous death of her friends as they happen in real time. The stories write themselves, in this case literally. The book can't be returned or destroyed and the victims get picked off, by name, at the hands of various malevolent forces, they seem powerless to defeat.

The narrative gets creepy by the minute, as the script attempts to orchestrate good scares, mounting dread and sudden jolts. The plot twists the anthology into a linear narrative. This is one of the film's greatest strength but also its undoing, since most of the individual tales were only a page or two long, they don't have much by way of arcs or morals. So each story winds up as episodes suggesting a scream or two and eventually ends up with diminishing marginal returns.

On the performance front, every actor is natural and they portray their parts sincerely. The rich production values along with good cinematography elevate this film above the current crop of mediocre mainstream horrors.

Overall, while the film celebrates storytelling, as both a healing and a harming force, the makers struggle to get the creepiness of the tales hit bullseye.

--IANS

troy/ksk

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