Cast: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Amy Ryan, Ryan Lee, Halston Sage, Jillian Bell
Director: Rob Letterman
Writers: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Although I didn’t read many of the Goosebumps stories as a kid I did watch some episodes of the TV series. I remember them being very scary indeed. What R. L. Stine seems to understand is that horror isn’t just about monsters, creepy houses and the dark. Horror is about people. It is about understanding whatever it is that people are afraid of and then creating a vessel to personify that fear. In the case of Goosebumps it is about tapping into those childhood fears that all kids have and bringing them to life. Even though these stories always had room for a few laughs and would always end with the evil being defeated, they were still scary to read and to watch. Children have very active imaginations and Stine knew how to use that against them. The type of horror Stine created was very childish in nature in that it was never dark or disturbing. The Goosebumps stories are scary in a fun way which is why so many children enjoy them so much. I was curious to see whether this was something that could be realised in a cinematic form.
Goosebumps follows Zach (Dylan Minnette) who has just moved to a new town with his mother Gale (Amy Ryan). When they move into their new house Zach meets Hannah (Odeya Rush) who lives next door with her secretive and hostile father. One night when Zach thinks something bad might be happening next door he sneaks in with his new friend Champ (Ryan Lee) to find out what’s happening. There they discover that Hannah’s father is in fact R. L. Stine (Jack Black), the famed author of the Goosebumps series. They also discover that his house contains the original manuscripts of his stories which, if opened, will release their monsters into the real world. When a series of accidents leads to all of the monsters being released, it falls onto Stine and his three companions to try and return them all to where they came from before they destroy the town.
My big problem with this film is that it isn’t scary. It focuses so hard on being a fun family adventure that it overlooks the horror that made these stories so likeable in the first place. There are some spooky looking monsters and a few jump scares thrown in but the only element in this film that I would argue really works on a scary level is the main villain Slappy (it is an undisputed fact that talking dummies are always scary). As a fun family adventure however the film works fine. There are some good thrilling scenes with some light comedy thrown in that kids are sure to enjoy. The film is creative with the monsters that it chooses to include as they vary in their shapes, sizes and ways of causing mayhem. Bringing all of these creatures from their respective stories together as an anthology of Stine’s work is a clever way for the film to raise the excitement of these stories to a cinematic level and is surly a treat for any 90s kids who remember the books and TV show and recognise the monsters.
Jack Black provides the film’s most entertaining performance as Stine, portraying him in a fun yet sinister way as a mad scientist type of character. His energy, comic timing and charisma are all employed to enjoyable effect as he allows himself to get fully enveloped as this sophisticated yet eccentric character, clearly loving every second of it. The protagonist Zach is a walking, talking 90s movie cliché (new kid in town, dead father, baseball player; the list goes on) but Minnette brings enough charm to the role that he never really becomes that bland. The role of Stine’s daughter is quite generically that of a young girl from a strange place who just wants a normal life but Rush does a good enough job playing her. Champ however, as the film’s obligatory comic-relief sidekick, was wholly insufferable and did not contribute anything to the story. I relished every second that he remained off-screen.
On the whole Goosebumps is quite an enjoyable film that should please its audience. Teenagers and young adults who remember the stories from their childhoods should enjoy the opportunity to rediscover them and get caught up in the nostalgia. Kids who are new to Goosebumps should enjoy this fun adventure film that offers some good action, some laughs and one or two scary elements. As a tribute to Stine and his work the film is a respectable celebration of what it is that kids love so much about his tales and it does a decent job of bringing them together into a single, all-encompassing story. Goosebumps is quite a safe film that doesn’t offer any surprises or take any risks (like perhaps placing more emphasis on the horror aspects of the story) but it’s pretty good for what it is.