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‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ pretty good, but too predictable to be scary

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Next to romantic comedies, no other movie genre adheres to formulas and convention as much as horror movies. While studios release the occasional interesting, filmmaker-driven horror flick, they more often than not foist rejiggered versions of movies that have worked before. “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” definitely follows a familiar formulaic flow, but it also does something just different enough to stand out a little from the current horror movie pack.

“Scary Stories” centers on four friends led by Stella (Zoe Colletti) and Ramon (Michael Garza) who break into an alleged haunted house and come out with a mysterious book full of macabre tales. Unfortunately, someone is still writing stories in the book, and events from those stories unfurl in real life. Can our youthful protagonists solve the riddle of the book and stop their friends from disappearing?

“Scary Stories” is based on a popular series of children’s horror books, and it’s pretty obvious that, like the books, the movie is intended as a gateway into horror for younger people. This is reflected in the simplistic characters and uncomplicated storytelling. In fact, the film unfolds in a way that follows the basic horror formula.

That leads to the films biggest flaw: it’s predictable. It’s especially frustrating when scary movies are predictability because delivering scares often depends on the audience not knowing what’s coming next. “Scary Stories” does throw a couple of clever curveballs at us, but for the most part, you know what’s coming five minutes before it happens.

The film also makes little use of its 1960s setting. Events in the movie could be transposed to another time period and not be affected, with the exception of swapping out CB radios for cell phones. The film makes no effort to justify its setting or tie it to the characters in any meaningful way. Add in an ending that is 100 percent pure sequel set-up that could be cut out and not missed and you have a film that’s hardly perfect.

However, in spite of its flaws, “Scary Stories” does entertain and even whip a little meaning at you. The writing is rock-solid, without any instances that make you wonder if actual humans ever really talk like that. The acting is very good as well. Colletti and Garza are especially strong, and “Breaking Bad” alumnus Dean Norris shows up to help give the film a little emotional resonance. Austin Abram’s performance as Tommy is pure high school bully perfection.

Director Andre “Trollhunter” Ovredal’s style isn’t overly bombastic, but he’s given “Scary Stories” some pretty impressive visual moments. From the opening on the film that introduces the key players in a single shot to a confrontation in a hospital corridor that gets extra creep factor from it red lighting scheme, Ovredal shows he knows how to convey information through the camera without leaning too hard on flashy camera tricks or excessive movement.

Best of all, “Scary Stories” is a story that leaves you with a little moral and meaning. Themes of not blaming yourself and letting go of misdirected rage are dealt with in a way that feels unforced and organic. It’s especially good to see this kind of messaging in a horror movie, since the genre isn’t really known for being especially deep.

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is more creepy and suspenseful than scary and gets a little too predictable for its own good. But it’s well-written, full of good acting and it’s a story that actually packs some meaning in with the creepy stuff. While I’m not sure I’d rush out the theater to see it immediately, I also wouldn’t skip it completely, either. And this movie is destined to become a classic for future teenage slumber parties.

3 Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Thanks to Fat Cats in Rexburg for providing screenings for movie reviews on EastIdahoNews.com.

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