The 400-Word Review: Goosebumps
By Sean Collier
October 22, 2015
The biggest strength of Goosebumps, the decades-overdue adaptation of the popular children’s book series, is also the greatest knock against it.
The film is a PG-rated spookfest, intended to produce giggles more than shrieks. It is a fine observer of tested horror tropes via displaced monsters, ominous extraterrestrials, mysterious haunted houses and a sinister ventriloquist’s dummy — just as the book series, which contained 62 titles in its original 1990s incarnation, was.
Above all, the series was perfectly targeted for its pre-teen audience. And that’s precisely where the film triumphs: For a nine-year-old, there will be thrills, harmless chills and familiar childhood situations. The 10-and-under set will likely love this movie.
The rest of the audience… not so much.
We meet Zach (Dylan Minnette) as he and his mother Gale (Amy Ryan) are relocating to a small Delaware town. The lad quickly bonds with neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush), despite the warnings of her curmudgeonly father (Jack Black). After the seeds of teen romance are planted, Zach grows concerned that something suspicious is going on in the hulking house next door.
The film then becomes surprisingly metatextual: the boys find leatherbound copies of the classic “Goosebumps” books in an ornate library. Upon opening one, a cartoonish beast — the titular yeti from The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena — emerges. The secret is out: Hannah’s father is in fact the “Goosebumps” series’ author, R.L. Stine, and his creations have come to life.
It’s an amusing setup that produces the few laughs that will land with grown-up viewers (the clear highlight is Stine’s exasperated reaction to the assertion that he’s a wannabe Stephen King). The plot will feel right at home for those who grew up with the series, and while the effects are subpar at best, they often ape the memorable style of the series’ cover artist, Tim Jacobus.
Unfortunately, that also means that the story will be too simplistic and slow for viewers outside of the target demographic. The first act drags — perhaps out of a desire to stretch the runtime with scenes that did not tax the film’s small effects budget — and later plot developments ape late-20th century horror tropes in the wrong ways. Those currently in the market for the books will have a great time; those hoping to revisit their own childhood reading will learn why some kids’ favorites are best left as fond memories.
My Rating: 5/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark