Not the Cheap, Heartless, Cash Grab You Thought it Was
Seriously, these days what films are not inspired by a book or “true story”? Ever since the Eragon movie, whenever I see the latest teen novel or emotional story being “adapted to screen” I get the shivers. Of course there have been exceptions like The Hunger Games series but the majority of movies are straight crap that profit off of young people’s nostalgia. Suffice it to say, you can imagine my skepticism as I walked into the theatre for Goosebumps. I read plenty of the short horror stories when I was a kid but was not immensely attached to them so I figured I could suffer through the latest blow to my cherished childhood memories. Surprisingly, I found I didn’t have to. Goosebumps is a surprisingly fun, even heartfelt film that simultaneously manages to pack in the creeps for kids and adults alike.
Rather than focus on a single Goosebumps novel, the film decides instead to embrace all of them at once. That’s one hell of a gutsy move. Of course there isn’t enough time to fully explore the fun/horror of every single monster, but none of them feel like worthless props hanging in the background. What’s more, the characters that do get the spotlight are written wonderfully and balance scariness with their R.L. Stine trademarked quirks perfectly. This is most notable with the film’s main antagonist Slappy, the self-aware, creepy-as-f**k dummy which was the only real monster I remembered from the books because it scared the ever loving sh*t out of me. Slappy is hilarious and sinister, spouting off unrelenting puns one second and breaking a man’s fingers the next and that kind of spirit straight from the books that is captured perfectly.
Despite antagonists being the main draw of any Stine creation, the protagonists this time around are pretty fun themselves. Jack Black’s performance as R.L. Stine is surprisingly fitting and he easily draws out the most laughs of the film. He an artist, so obviously he feels sensitive and misunderstood (and constantly overshadowed by that bastard STEVE King!!!). Even though he is the creator of his own demons, that doesn’t mean he isn’t freaked out like the rest of us. When his creations find a way out into the real world he isn’t some calm and collected Indiana Jones type who knows exactly what to do; no, he runs like hell with everyone else. Technically though, Jack Black isn’t our main protagonist; that honor goes to Dylan Minnette as Zach Cooper. Zach recently moved into Nowhere, Suburbia with his mom to escape the grief of his recently deceased father. In his search for friends, he runs into Stine’s daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush) who is mysteriously kept away from others by her over protective father. Of course, the two quickly form a friendship with the potential of more around the horizon, and while that may be a bit nuanced their sharing feeling of grief over a lost parent is not. As it turns out, Hannah also lost a parent somehow and also feels like an outsider. The pairing is sweet and believable as the chemistry between the two works well. There’s also the matter of Champ (Ryan Lee) who is there for no reason other than comic relief. Look, I’m all for a guy to laugh at when the going gets tough, but the film is funny enough without throwing another scapegoat into our faces. In a way, the trio reminds me of the group from Paper Towns where they are all off on a quest for others and themselves. There is even a moment where Champ (again, the underdog nerd of the group) gets to save the hot cheerleader type from certain doom and is rewarded with a chance to date wayyyyy outside his league. Just like Paper Towns. And the actress who plays the damsel in distress from Goosebumps (Halston Sage) is that exact character in Paper Towns… Coincidence?
Save for Champ, all of our unlikely heroes come off as likeable in their own way. They bond and grow, finding strength in their friends and themselves. It’s a strangely sweet tale for something that has so many demonic creatures in it. Of course there are cheesy CGI effects galore when it comes to fighting the big monsters, but I am inclined to forgive them for at least trying to make something more than just another young adult novel adaptation. RDR gives it a 7.8 out of 10.