Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 43 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for Scary and Intense Creature Action and Images, and for some Rude Humor
Directed by: Rob Letterman
Written by: Darren Lemke
(based on the GOOSEBUMPS books by R.L. Stine)
Starring: Dylan Minnette, Jack Black, Odeya Rush, Amy Ryan, Ryan Lee, Jillian Bell & Ken Marino
When do you realize that you’re getting old? Some say it’s when you move out of the house. Others say that it’s when you have kids. Personally speaking, I think that you truly start to feel old when Hollywood begins to produce films based on nostalgia from your childhood. That’s certainly happening with GOOSEBUMPS. I frantically burned through R.L. Stine’s books back when I was in Elementary School as well as watched every TV episode from the Fox series that I could possibly see. Even to this day, I still listen to a GOOSEBUMPS-themed podcast (Dune Reads Goosebumps). So to say that I was pretty excited to see familiar horror characters from my childhood come to life on the big screen would be a massive understatement. Having just watched the film a few hours ago, I can say that I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. Sure, GOOSEBUMPS isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s everything that I could have possibly wanted from a movie like this.
Zach and his mother have just moved to the small town of Madison, Delaware. Though he’s only been in town for less than two days, Zach has already made a couple of friends: the nerdy Champ and the girl-next-door Hannah. The only thing that seems mysterious in the neighborhood is Hannah’s extremely overprotective father, the one and only R.L. Stine (as portrayed by Jack Black). In order to investigate what he believes might be a possible domestic disturbance, Zach breaks into Stine’s house and discovers a bookcase filled with locked manuscripts. It turns out that whatever R.L. Stine writes down in a book actually comes to life and Zach has accidentally unleashed a horde of monsters upon his small town. It’s up to Zach, Hannah, Champ, and R.L. Stine to capture all of the monsters before their town is destroyed.
Unlike most nostalgic films that fall flat (I’m looking in your direction, PIXELS), GOOSEBUMPS actually delivers on everything that fans of the books and TV series would want to see on the big screen. The story moves from set-piece to set-piece at a rapid speed. Our characters encounter a ton of various monsters from the books. Everything from evil lawn gnomes to the abominable snowman of Pasadena to a certain evil ventriloquist’s dummy make an appearance. The fast paced storytelling will keep both younger and older viewers constantly engaged in the non-stop adventure. I’d also wager that the jump scares in this film (of which there are a handful) will be legitimately creepy for younger kids. There’s nothing wrong with that though, especially when you consider that the main reason we even have a GOOSEBUMPS movie playing in theaters right now is because the book series scared the crap out of a ton of kids who are now adults.
What makes GOOSEBUMPS even more impressive is that it’s more than just a film relying on throwbacks and references. The screenplay is very smart and we get fleshed-out characters. Dylan Minnette (who previously starred in an episode of Stine’s HAUNTING HOUR) is a likable lead as Zach. I wouldn’t be surprised if Minnette has a long film career laid in front of him. Odeya Rush (seen in last year’s THE GIVER) is well cast as Hannah and her character is complex right from the start. Ryan Lee (who has also starred in an episode of Stine’s HAUNTING HOUR) is mostly solid as the comic relief character. Though not all of his jokes work, he does get a good amount of laughs. Jack Black steals the show as R.L. Stine. His comic timing and line delivery is spot-on. Black also pulls double duty to provide the voice for Slappy the Dummy as well.
There’s so much to enjoy about GOOSEBUMPS aside from the performances and smart writing. There are a lot of little nods for fans of the book series. We don’t just get creatures from normal GOOSEBUMPS book series, but also the “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories and the short-lived “2000” books. I actually found myself sitting through the end credits as these weaved together an entertaining montage of various book covers. R.L. Stine makes a quick cameo that you have to keep your eye out for. Also, the last time I saw this many different monsters crammed into one film, I was watching THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. That’s not a bad film to be compared to either.
GOOSEBUMPS definitely delivers on being a nostalgic, spooky, and fun time that’s perfect for the Halloween season. The writing is far better than it probably has any right to be. The effects bringing the monsters to life (done by Sony Animation) are impressive. The frantic fast-paced nature of the film has an almost rollercoaster ride approach to the storytelling and the script never takes itself too seriously at all, though it does have a number of jump scares that will definitely get younger viewers. Overall, GOOSEBUMPS is a blast and I look forward to making this film an annual viewing for every October.