********* 6 out of 10 *********
Director: Rob Letterman
Actors: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush
Close to the Halloween period, we always get a rush of horror movies. The likes of Crimson Peak and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, which are meant to rattle our nerves, spook us out, and get us in the Halloween mood. But everyone does not have a taste for such R-rated horror flicks, and that is when something like Rob Letterman’s Goosebumps looks appealing. Do you remember the books of author R.L. Stine that came under this title and were such a rage in the 90s? Horror books with the traditional supernatural elements, but in a much mellowed form, making them the best horror books to read if you weren’t cut out for the really creepy ones. Living true to the theme of the book series, the movie Goosebumps encompasses the spirit of adventure and the fight with the wicked monster without causing any serious chills to run down your spine. It’s cozy, fun-filled, but might have benefited from elevating briefly beyond those adjectives.
Goosebumps begins with young Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) moving to the town of Madison with his mother. Zach is not expecting much excitement in this small town, but he does get interested in his next-door neighbor, Hannah (Odeya Rush), with whom he starts to hang out. Hannah’s father (Jack Black) does not appreciate Zach spending time with his daughter and asks him to stay away. There is a lot about Hannah’s father that Zach finds suspicious, and a certain sting of events will eventually reveal to Zach the true identity of Hannah’s father and the demons enclosed in his book. A spooky adventure is about to begin!
The story behind Goosebumps comes from the duo Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. It is faithful to the spirit of a Goosebumps story where a young protagonist has to fight a demon, with a twist just round the corner. Instead of one, this movie has all the demons that R.L Stine created, which would literally give the goosebumps to ardent readers of the book series. Director Rob Letterman manages to film this movie as an enjoyable adventure despite its dark setting and an occasional creepy scene. Whether that was the intention, I cannot completely know, but a PG rating assigned to the movie might suggest it was. The movie starts to get more interesting the further it progresses, though do not misunderstand it as ‘captivating’. Much of the plot in hindsight looks straightforward, but surprisingly, there is a lot of humour in the film to get you to like some parts of the movie along with quite good special effects that make the monsters of the movie as good as real. Danny Elfman’s music provides a haunting touch to the theme, without getting spooky. And then Rob Letterman adds a bit of sentimentality to grab your attention, in case you were just starting to feel disconnected.
Goosebumps has a good cast of actors who are one of its biggest strengths. Jack Black as the reserved writer, who has his ‘demons’ to deal with, is fantastic in this role, showing a bit of restrain and shifting effortlessly from being creepy to jovial to mature. The young trio of Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush and Ryan Lee are comfortable in this adventure, never appearing overburdened or intimidated. Ryan Lee, as Zach’s friend, provides some of the best bits of humour in the film that make him all the more endearing. Amy Ryan puts in a good shift though in a limited role as Zach’s mother, while Jillian Bell adds to the humor quotient as Zach’s aunt. The greatest role in the film though falls to Slappy, the ventriloquist dummy with life in it, who is the main antagonist. Slappy does have a personality to him, which comes across brilliantly thanks to the voice provided by none other than Jack Black again. It’s not exactly scary but it has a menace and at the same time, it stays casual and light-hearted too. A nice bit of improvisation by Jack Black!
Goosebumps is not to be termed an ‘unforgettable’ movie by any stretch of the imagination. But it does strive to entertain and achieves that for most parts of the film. It’s a good homage to R.L. Stine’s book series (who makes a cameo in the movie; keep your eyes open for that), and a gentle deviation from the spookier horror movies. Though as the day passes, the memory of Goosebumps will fade too, and our hearts will seek the thrill of another adventure soon.