Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Biggest Twist in “Goosebumps”? It’s Actually Good.

Three Stars

I had a lot of fun seeing this film.
“Goosebumps”, for those of you who grew up before Harry Potter mania overtook young adult literature, was a series of young adult novels which were designed to give you the chills, but not so much that you would be traumatized, but spooky enough that you would think twice before going to sleep. Considering the books sold three hundred million copies over the years, it’s a bit baffling that they haven’t had a movie adaptation until now. R.L. Stine’s spooky tales have been scaring kids for over twenty years now. R.L. Stine has said in an interview that the problem was that they could never figure out which book to make into an entire film, as the books aren’t very long. The “Goosebumps” film takes a very creative approach to this problem. Why not just have a kid move next door to R.L. Stine himself?

Zach (Dylan Minnette) moves with his mom (Amy Ryan) to a new neighborhood in Greendale, Maryland. He’s not thrilled to be moving from New York City, but that changes fast when he sees the pretty girl next door, Hannah (Odeya Rush). They meet each other, but she is quickly taken inside her house and he gets a stern warning from her dad, a mysterious man with black-rimmed glasses, who they later learn is R.L. Stine (Jack Black). At school, Zach quickly makes a nerdy friend named Champ (Ryan Lee), who is basically a teen version of Howard Wolfowitz. Things are going normally enough, with him being embarrassed by his mom being  the assistant principal and his aunt  (Jillian Bell) stepping in to help out.

Then one night, Zach hears a mysterious scream come from his next-door neighbor and thinks Hannah is in trouble. He calls his friend, Champ, and they find that there’s  mysterious secrets and big surprises in the house and by mistake unleash the monsters, and things go bonkers. My favorite monster in the film was Slappy The Dummy (also voiced by Jack Black), who turns around the chair, threatens R.L. Stine and the kids and escapes to create chaos in the town.

 What I appreciated about this film was it could of been a big monster chase, and in a way, it is. However, I felt the director and screenwriter took time to throw things into this film they where under no obligation to do. Some of the jokes actually poke fun at the nature of this film in general. At one moment, Zach asks why R.L. Stine couldn’t just write about unicorns and fairies. “Because” R.L. Stine says, “that wouldn’t sell three million copies.” Some of the humor is very self aware, and funny.

Another thing I liked about this film was the twist with the daughter, which I won’t give away, but I thought, was actually pretty unusual considering this is a kid’s film. They didn’t really have to think out a creative twist for her. The kid characters in this film are pretty generic for the most part, but so are the kids in most of the “Goosebumps” books. “Goosebumps” isn’t in the business of making memorable kids like “Harry Potter”, but in a way that’s okay.  R.L. Stine’s stuff is all about normal kids getting into spooky situations.

Jack Black obviously has fun overdoing the cliché horror author persona of R.L. Stine, giving him a cheesy accent and a goofy back story about how none of the kids liked him as a child, as he gained the power to bring the monsters he wrote to life. In a way, this film was better thought out than a lot of the current nineties revivals we’ve been seeing lately. We aren’t seeing a big reunion of these childhood books and us, and yes, some of the twists don’t really make sense, but it doesn’t really matter.  I wish more things that reach for nostalgia while also introducing a new audience, would embrace the silliness of why we liked the things in the first place.