Film review by Claire Durrant of the family horror film based on the popular stories by R.L Stine starring Jack Black.
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After the death of his father, a hesitant Zach (Minnette) and his mother (Ryan) move from New York to a small town in Delaware. Things start to pick up for Zach when he meets his neighbour Hannah (Rush). Unfortunately, she is protected by her eccentric father (Black) who warns him to stay away. Curiosity gets the better of Zach, and with his new friend Champ (Lee), they sneak into his neighbour’s house. There they find locked manuscripts of classic Goosebumps stories.
When the copy of The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena is accidentally opened, a giant Yeti is unleashed. It is revealed that Hannah’s father is R.L. Stine and he has been cursed with the ability to make his evil creations real. As more books are opened more monsters escape and they begin attacking the town. It’s now up to Stine, Zach, Hannah and Champ to once again trap the monsters within their books.
Being one of those “90s kids”, I grew up reading Goosebumps and watching the TV show. Stories like The Ghost Next Door and episodes like Say Cheese and Die were engaging, chilling without being too traumatising, and acted as the foundation for many who love horror films today. When the Goosebumps film was first announced, a part of me wanted it to be aimed at those who grew up with R.L Stine.
Unfortunately, instead of an adult version, we get a Jumanji (1995) and Inkheart (2008) style family friendly adventure. Nevertheless, the film is still enjoyable and is full of nostalgia.
The nostalgia of the classic monsters is what the film most relies on. Goosebumps only picks up the pace and gets entertaining once the characters have been unleashed and we get to once again familiarise ourselves with the likes of the Invisible Boy, the Vampire Poodle and Graveyard Ghouls. And of course we have the leader and the most recognise Goosebumps villain, Slappy, who is responsible for why people feel uneasy around ventriloquist dummies. The third act in which all the monsters join together to attack the school is pretty much a kids version of the lift scene in Cabin in the Woods (2011) and is as awesome as it sounds.
The tongue in cheek humour also aids the film within its plot. Although the humour is hit and miss (mostly miss), the overall light-hearted atmosphere is charming. And this is all due to our main player, Mr Black. I have no idea what Stine is like in real life, but his persona in the film is wonderful. Full of deadpan humour and a straight man demeanour, he is what is most amusing here. His rant about “Steve” King is a highlight!
The three teens all play their parts well but, from new boy Zach, ‘girl next door’ Hannah and cowardly, nerd Champ, there is nothing innovative about their characters. And this is one of the problems with the film. The entire film is predictable.
Stine goes on about how every story should have a twist – this did not. The one the writers try to add is kind of apathetic.
From clichéd character tropes, and an unnecessary teen romance, to a basic script and drawn out exposition, the film failed to shock me in any way. For instance, the scene with the garden gnomes. As the gnomes move towards the group, Zach ponders that they may be friendly, a knife is then thrown and narrowly misses his face. “Definitely not friendly,” he cries. Yeah: jokes such as this wear thin.
The main problem I have with the film, is the problem I have with most “dark” films targeted at children. That is the want to create a scary film for children, but at the same time not making it too scary. It is clear the director is struggling to balance making a spooky film, but at the same time toning it down to appeal to a wider audience.
There are sparks of true scares (ghouls and a creepy ass clown crawl out of their graves) but at the same time, there is never any genuine threat towards any of the characters.
Children want to be thrilled just like anyone else. TV shows like Doctor Who and films such as Coraline (2009) have proved that.
A recent film that I think has come close to perfectly balancing scares and not shocking its young audience, is the underrated effort by Joe Dante The Hole (2012,) which is so similar plot wise to Goosebumps but is much better executed.
In the end, for what it is Goosebumps is fun and entertaining, an energy-fuelled family adventure about a bunch of teens facing a bunch of monsters. For me, I hoped to actually feel goosebumps!
See the official trailer on Youtube.
Cast and Credits
Director: Rob Letterman. Columbia Pictures, LStar Capital, Original Film, Sony Pictures Entertainment, et al.
Producers: Deborah Forte, Neal H. Moritz.
Writers: Darren Lemke, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski.
Camera: Javier Aguirresarobe.
Music: Danny Elfman.
Sets: Sean Haworth.
Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Amy Ryan, Jillian Bell.