Horror movies aimed at kids can be a desperately mixed bag at times, never managing to strike a balance between the comedy and spooky story. And whereas once they were hugely popular in the 1990’s, now they are more difficult to find. But can this live action adaption of the massively popular “Goosebumps” novels and TV series stop the rot?
A mother and her teenage son (Dylan Minnette as Zach, Amy Ryan as Gale) move into their new home in Madison, Delaware following the death of the father. This brings with it all the to-be-expected challenges of a new school and new neighbours, but those living next door are more strange than usual. The daughter (Odeya Rush) takes a liking to Zach, but the father wants no contact with them whatsoever. The mystery gets revealed when he is shown to be none other than R.L. Stein, the author of the Goosebumps series, but the books he keeps behind lock and key hold an even greater mystery, with the monsters having the ability to quite literally leap from the text into real life.
Straight off I was surprised to find how meta this story construction was happy to go to, and even when it has a bit of a tricky start in following many of the cliches bound to a story like this, once the reveal is made things move forward at a surprisingly fast pace. It dives right into being a monster mash, and their designs are pretty fantastic. Maybe not to the scale of variety I hoped for, but still really well pulled off in a mix of CG and practical effects. So as far as having the “watch with the family on Halloween” credentials, this has that box ticked easily.
That gets followed close-by from the comedy and wit being shown off, and once again, to a surprisingly good level. Where usually there are jokes that just fall flat from poor design, there are moments of jokes falling flat that are intended to be that way, like when Zach’s mom gives her introduction to the high school and utters a joke so bad, I groaned in distaste at the exact same time the rest did on screen. I had to laugh at that once I realised what had happened. And in a turn for the books, Jack Black puts in a really good performance as R.L. Stein, playing to the best of his over-acting styles as well as having some solid material to work from. He manages to hold the film’s crazy plot together by just running with the crazy rather than against it. His line delivery is on-par, and it is yet another of those roles on his C.V. that somehow for some unknown reason, fits him like a glove.
The rest which make of the primary cast are quite entertaining too. Dylan Minnette is someone who is made to be likeable, and thankfully not in the flawless “unsung hero of the day” style. He has problems and stuff he is battling with, but works to get over them. Ryan Lee as his new friend Champ is the goofball-nerd-lady’s man wannabe who adds a personality from the opposite end of the spectrum. He is almost a baffoon but provides lots of comedic delivery through the running time. Odeya Rush as Stein’s daughter is the love interest for Zach, but thankfully that’s not all to her arc. She’s well capable of dealing with the mad situations with the monsters, and plays things in a really nice, casual manner that makes her friendship with Zach feel genuine.
The film has plenty of special effects and big moments thrown in, and I was extremely worried that the digital work would fall to pieces. But the designs and insertions into the sequences are of a very good quality. It shifts from practical work on the creepy Slappy the Dummy, to large scale effects for the Abominable Snowman. When all of it is going on at the same time, you can tell they were worried and used low lighting to hide any tears that might show up, but for me I found little to complain about on this front. The use across many locations and scenarios helps to keep all the action interesting too, and they are superbly creative with each piece.
Only one major thing stuck out as being a problem, that being points in the editing that seemed to skip over aspects to the story. Such as one of the books unlocking by its own accord to simplify the story moving forward. It is not given a good enough explanation and thus stuck out for me There are other moments like this, and maybe the inclusion of five minutes of extra material would have resolved the vast majority of them. And even with the praise I lavished upon this movie, it remains a very simple to follow, basic design that won’t win any major awards. There wasn’t too much that had me on the edge of my seat in awe.
HOWEVER, I was constantly entertained and most importantly, really surprised at how well this adaptation of “Goosebumps” turned out. Sony Pictures have made a mess of some previous franchises as they transitioned to the big screen, but this one in particular is for certain a success. Not one which will set the world alight, but who cares?
It will be a big hit for families, fans of the books and TV show, and manics for all things Halloween. There’s a good mix of laughs to be found, a cast doing a very good job with the material they have, and some cool and creepy monster designs. The recipe was very simple, but the results punched way above what I had expected of them.
Thanks for reading!