R.L. Stine scared the teenage world with his haunting novels, but the adaptation sits comfortably on the soothing shoulders of Jack Black.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Goosebumps succeeds at being both a familiar spooky tale for children, and a breezy entertainment for the children’s parents, who may or may not have grown up reading the short novels by R.L. Stine. It’s a fun ride, but sadly, that’s where it stops. It hesitates to push over into complete teenage horror in the way the books did.
I’ve dabbled in a number of the books in my youth, and I remember being genuinely frightened by some of the images their words would conjure in the banks of my imagination. Some of their cover illustrations alone were the stuff of nightmares. And there was something about the gooey, dripping typeface of the title that assured me something sinister was about to go down.
Much of this terror is lost on the movie, directed by Rob Letterman and starring Jack Black as a fictitious incarnation of Stine. The plot takes the familiar form of the 1995 board game adventure Jumanji and steals several elements from a cute little cartoon called Gravity Falls, which, in due consideration, is much more fun.
Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) arrives at the sleepy town of Madison, with his mother Gale (Amy Ryan), who’s set to take over duties as the vice principal of the local high school. In all these stories, there must be a love interest, and Goosebumps provides a spunky heroine in the form of Hannah (Odeya Rush), who is cooped up inside her house and enjoys sneaking out to the nearby fairground.
The movie plays around with the various ghouls and gnomes R.L. Stine created many years ago – unleashed upon Madison like a demonic plague after several of Stine’s manuscripts are accidentally opened and their unholy characters magically materialise.
The overarching approach here is one of non-stop, nasty action, wherein all our heroes are constantly on the run from certain death, or whatever fate imaginary monsters might dole out. The movie nudges the mounting dread of Stine’s novels briefly, but not long enough for us to be truly afraid, and not confidently enough for it to supersede its humorous undercurrents. It plays safe, which might please the very young kids in the crowd, but if you grew up with the books, you are likely to be saddened by the physical absence of goosebumps.
Goosebumps is available in Australian cinemas from January 14th
Images courtesy of Roadshow Films