Goosebumps: Film Review
Cast: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Amy Ryan, Odeya Rush
Director: Rob Letterman
Given the popularity of the 62 odd children's horror novellas by American writer R L Stine, the film of Goosebumps has a lot of readers to satisfy.
But by cleverly using the scares that make the series so popular and not dumbing them down, the Goosebumps movie is a smart, occasionally nightmarish trip and scary take on the typical story of the new boy moving to a new town and trying to fit in.
That boy is Dylan Minette, whose Zach has moved to the small backwater of Madison where his mum (Amy Ryan) is taking up the deputy principal-ship of the high school. But Zach finds his attention focussed on the girl next door (Odeya Rush) whose father (Jack Black) keeps her home schooled and locked up a night a la Rapunzel.
However, when Zach breaks in to investigate what he believes to be a domestic, he discovers the father is actually the famed horror writer R L Stine. And things get more complicated when Zach inadvertently lets loose a monster from the pages of Stine's books...
Using a mix of CGI, comedy horror and old school scares, Goosebumps works cleverly to keep its audience entertained without ever stooping to the lazy cliches and writing.
While the kids are most likely to be taken in by the suspense and the chase set pieces, adults will find some joys too in this Rear Window / The Blob / Zathura / The Shining / IT pastiche, which revels in meta-commentary about book sales, Stephen King and writing - it even throws in a Gulliver's Travels sight gag too as gnomes tether Black down.
Black channels madcap as Stine, but keeps it on the right side of not going OTT and also does a great job as the menacingly homicidal mannequin, Slappy, the main villain of the piece (and fave of the book series). Minnette continues his road to fame as the likeable Zach (who has a great bond with his mother) and Rush manages the part well, but the pair lack some of the chemistry which feels forced upon them; there's the obligatory comedy sidekick in Ryan Lee's champ to get you through the mix of jump scares and tension.
The FX are reasonable; certainly when the words spring to life off the page and bring the creatures into the world, it's a great effect, though later on there are moments when the film starts to creak. Equally, there's a lot of simply chasing around which does grow a little repetitive towards the end as if the story itself is running ever so slightly out of steam.
But all in all, Goosebumps succeeds in a self-aware wave of nostalgia for the books' source material and a reverence to what makes them so popular - they simply set out to scare their readers and offer entertainment; it's something which the film manages in great spades of both parody and B-movie moments.
As we head to the end of the year and movie fatigue is on the verge of setting in, it may actually give you Goosebumps because of how good it actually is.