Director: Rob Letterman
Writers: Darren Lemke, Scott Alexander
Cast: Dylan Minette, Odeya Rush, Jack Black, Ryan Lee
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Action
You guys remember Goosebumps, right? Those horror books you read as a kid if you had no intention of sleeping that night. That series was no joke. I’m surprised they let kids read them with the amount of nightmares they must have produced. There was even a TV show in the late 90s that perpetually gave me the willies.
We’re almost two decades removed from that now, and Hollywood has deemed it the prime moment to make a movie targeting our nostalgia, as well as hopefully introducing some kids to Goosebumps. The result is a film made much more for laughs than for scares, but that is most certainly not a bad thing.
Our story begins with our hero Zach (Dylan Minette) and his single mother Gale (Amy Ryan) moving into their new home in the bustling metropolis of Madison, Delaware. Whilst taking out the trash, Zach meets his alluring new neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush) as well as her standoffish and secretive father (Jack Black).
After witnessing Hannah and her father argue and believing that Hannah is in danger, Zach and his new friend/unfortunate tagalong Champ (Ryan Lee) break into her home to rescue her. In doing so, Zach and Champ discover a bookcase full of locked books, all by the venerated horror author R.L. Stine. Our young heroes accidentally unlock and open one of the books, inadvertently releasing one of Stein’s imagined monsters into the real world. This begins a chain of events leading to the kids having to find a way to get all of Stein’s creations back into their books.
Language: The farthest they go is using the word “hell.” Pretty tame for a PG movie.
Sexual Content: None.
Drug/Alcohol References: None.
Violence: Some cartoon violence against some of the monsters.
Spiritual Content: The plot revolves around how R.L. Stein can make his creations come to life, so if that seems occult-y to you and you’d rather avoid it, then I would skip this one. I believe that would be an extreme reason not to see this movie, however.
While the source material here is definitely very scary, this movie is not, and is not meant to be, if that’s what you’re expecting. Goosebumps actually is just a PG comedy. In fact, it takes a good while before it even gets to the Goosebumps part. This is not a negative, however, as the film plays pretty well as a straight comedy.
It’s not full of laugh-out-loud moments, but there are plenty of lines and gags that will make you smile at the least. There are enough quick jokes and subtle funny moments to keep the audience entertained even without monsters. I would actually say that the film is aimed at a slightly older audience, like preteens, as many of the jokes would go over little kids’ heads because they were kind of high-brow. (Note: I’m pretty certain I was the only one there without a young child accompanying them.)
If you are a big R.L. Stein fan, then you know every monster that they used in the film, many of which they do not name. If you’re not a previous fan, then you won’t miss out. All of the main monsters are fairly self-explanatory, and not having read or seen any Goosebumps shouldn’t be a barrier to entry.
The exception to this might be the main villain, a particularly devious creation of Stein. If you never read that book, which I believe is one of the more popular ones, then you don’t know what his whole deal is and how he does what he does. However, his motivations are easy enough to understand and not knowing the background doesn’t really put forth an obstacle to enjoying the film.
The plot is straightforward enough, if a little fast-paced. It is aimed at people with smaller attention spans, so that is understandable. There is a third-act twist, but it can be seen from a mile away. I actually called it within the first fifteen minutes of the movie. Still, it’s interesting enough, and the monsters provide enough of a sense of danger to keep your attention for the 103 minute run time.
The performances here are just fine, with Jack Black predictably being the stand-out. Minette and Rush perform serviceable jobs as our male and female leads, both being a little bland but still being able to generate genuine sympathy and deliver some convincingly courageous moments. I admired the job Jack Black did with Stein, mainly because it was actually Jack Black as the character rather than Jack Black as himself with the veneer of a character. This is always a danger with a star like him. I very much enjoyed his performance, which remained consistently eccentric throughout the film.
As for Ryan Lee’s Champ, if the objective of the character was to annoy me, then he did a fantastic job. Seriously, I get that not every character is going to be brave in the face of danger but that level of cowardice before there are even any monsters borders on the ridiculous. Maybe he’s the only rational one, I don’t know. But if they wanted me to hate him throughout the movie, then kudos, because I did.
The effects here are actually pretty good, especially the sequences when monsters are released from/returned to their books. The monsters are believable enough and don’t stand out as CGI. It looks like they used their entire effects budget, which is a good thing. The music was also well done, being utilized minimally for most of the movie and then to great effect during more intense or emotional moments.
I have to admit, I was not expecting to enjoy the film nearly as much as I did. They could have phoned this one in and just tried to prey on nostalgia, but they actually did a pretty good job. I wouldn’t exactly recommend going out of your way to see it, but if you’re looking for a family-friendly laugh or are getting dragged by your kids, then you’re going to have a pretty good time.
+ Surprisingly funny + Jack Black + Good effects
- Multitude of monsters loses impact - Twist easy to see coming - No real sense of danger
The Bottom Line
If you're looking for a movie to see with your family or a date--or maybe just want to feel a little nostalgia--then look no further. I wouldn't exactly go out of my way to see this film, but if you find yourself in need a film to see, this isn't a bad a choice. You'll be entertained for a solid hour and a half and come away with some good laughs.