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17th February 2016

Review: Goosebumps

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare!

Like a lot of people reading this review, I grew up with R. L. Stine’s incredible Goosebumps book series and the ever so creepy 1995 TV series. So I was very excited at the prospect of a Goosebumps feature film, despite being a twenty-year-old university student.

Anticipation aside, I was very curious and slightly worried as to how Rob Letterman would deal with the task—Stine wrote 62 books for his original Goosebumps series. Would the film focus on just one? Would it deal with the books and their respective monsters chronologically? Would it be a pseudo-Goosebumps original story? The latter of these options was probably the most applicable, with Darren Lemke writing an original screenplay—though as it is pleasingly in-keeping with the spirit of the Stine’s original books, it would be unfair to deem it “pseudo-Goosebumps”. It follows the story of Zach (Dylan Minette) who, having just moved to Madison, Delaware, develops a fascination with his new neighbour, Hannah (Odeya Rush) and her father (Jack Black)—who is later revealed to be R.L. Stine himself. The group are in for a scare as it is the monsters from his novels that become real and terrorise the neighbourhood—and this inclusion allowed the film to reference a great number of Stine’s books, something which lifelong fans will delight in. Lemke’s screenplay delivers a number of genuinely funny jokes (the Stephen King jibes are top!), plot twists that capture the true essence of Goosebumps, and some terrifyingly creepy moments. There was a slight tendency for repetition as the protagonists ran from, fought off and defeated the various monsters—though this was not too much of an issue. Fans will recognise the grotesque Slappy, a possessed Ventriloquist’s doll as the main and instigating antagonist in this film—whilst this is not the most terrifying incarnation, he still makes a satisfying villain.

There was an initial worry that Jack Black had been miscast as the sinister neighbour. My mother and I kept giggling when he was on screen at the start, doing this weird, glare-y thing. Though we have both have viewed a number of his comedy films and are fans of Tenacious D, a younger target audience will not be as familiar with his work and reputation. Additionally, as the film progresses and his character developed, he seemed more and more fitting for the role. Black makes a very loveable Stine. The younger actors put on a fine performance too, especially considering their characters are largely formulaic stereotypes. Goosebumps is a fine film, and there is not an awful lot to complain about—younger audiences will probably enjoy this film a lot more than adults even though there is enough interesting content, clever plot twists and nostalgia to entertain any age group.

There is, for me, only one major issue with Goosebumps in that all the female characters were written rather weakly. Hannah, our main female protagonist, had the potential to be strong, interesting, quirky and independent. However, a very thinly veiled romance sub-plot between her and Zach pretty much reduced her purpose to a cute little love interest for the male hero of the film. Those familiar with the books will recognise that Stine wrote both strong male and female leads win his books—something the TV series was also very faithful to. The film was actually impressive, but it was rather disappointing to realise that Hannah was nothing more than a “manic pixie tween girl”. But it is even more of a problematic revelation when inspecting the other female characters: Zach’s mother (Amy Ryan), who receives very little screen time; pitifully desperate Aunt Lorraine (Jillian Bell) and coveted high school girl, Taylor (Halston Sage), whose biggest scene was when she got saved by dorky Champ (Ryan Lee). Not only does this mean the film lost a crucial element that made the books and TV series so special, but it impacted one’s opinion as a whole.

Overall, however, Goosebumps is an enjoyable film. Somewhat formulaic, and definitely not as scary as Stine’s books, but it is a fun adventure that I would recommend.


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