Review: Goosebumps Is Okay But Nothing Substantial
Director: Rob Letterman
Screenwriter: Darren Lemke (screenplay), Scott Alexander (story), Larry Karaszewski, and R.L.Stine (based on the books “Goosebumps”)
Principal Cast: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Amy Ryan, Jillian Bell, and Ken Marino
Summary: A teenager teams up with the daughter of young adult horror author R.L.Stine after the writer’s imaginary demons are set free on the town of Madison, Delaware.
I have to say that the first time I saw a trailer for Goosebumps I groaned out loud. I’m not a fan of Jack Black to begin with, but this just looked like something that was going to make me claw my eyes out. When I found out the screening day was literally the day after I got back from New York Comic Con I almost thought about not attending at all. After a hectic trip did I really need to sit through yet another Jack Black movie that took some of my favorite books growing up and makes me hate them the way I hated video games a little after Pixels? I ended up making it to the screening anyway and sat down with every intention of hating this movie.
Goosebumps might not be the most original movie in the world, and not all the jokes land, but in general it’s serviceable and will hopefully open up the books to a new generation.
As I said I’m not a fan of Jack Black unless he’s doing voice acting, and even then it can be a stretch. If I wasn’t a critic I wouldn’t have gone to see Goosebumps just for him, so I was surprised when I didn’t find him insufferable. Black is playing a version of the real R.L. Stine who, in this version, has to keep his monsters under lock and key because they can come to life. When new neighbor, Zach (Dylan Minnette) develops a crush on Stine’s daughter,Hannah (Odeya Rush) things get complicated when Zach accidentally unleashes all of the monsters that Stine has created onto his small, Delaware town. That means that all the monsters that gave us nightmares as kids are coming to life which, from a nostalgia angle, is fun.
However, the nostalgia angle is really all the movie has. The CGI for the monsters doesn’t look that great and it makes the movie feel very dated. That isn’t a good thing since the monsters are the reason you’re there to see the movie. The lack of decent CGI is also the reason that the movie isn’t scary. I haven’t read any of the books as an adult, but I remember them scaring me as a kid. However, when they look this fake they just aren’t scary. The movie is aiming for a young audience, like the books do to an extent, but I feel like a movie about one of the greatest series of horror books ever written for kids should have been a least a little scary. The most unnerving part of the movie was probably Slappy (voiced by Black), a puppet brought to life and out for revenge. He looks like he might be an actual puppet and that makes him the most convincing monster in the movie.
There are a few subplots that don’t really go anywhere. Zach’s new friend Champ (Ryan Lee) is the coward who has to find his bravery during this adventure to win the affections of a pretty girl. Zach and Hannah make goo goo eyes at each other within five minutes, but Hannah isn’t a character as much as a plot device. Zach’s Mom(Jillian Bell) and Stine himself both have romantic subplots that don’t really go anywhere. The young cast does a pretty good job of reacting to monsters that clearly aren’t there and, as someone who is not a fan of Black at all, I thought he nailed the “eccentric shut in” thing perfectly. He doesn’t get much in the way of development, either, but it doesn’t seem like anyone really does. The movie isn’t here to be a character piece but a callback to the books that writers Darren Lemke, Scott Alexander, and Larry Karaszewski and director Rob Letterman were clearly fans of. There was a lot of love put into this project even if it felt a little corporate.
Goosebumps isn’t going to change anyone’s life, and might not even be that good of a movie, but it brings the monsters that haunted my nightmares to life and that was fun to see. The movie is really a long form love letter to the books, and maybe on a cynical level an advertisement, but I walked out enjoying the final product a lot more than I thought I would. Perhaps a matinee with the family would be fine but adults should seek out Crimson Peak for their horror needs this week.