VOD film review: Goosebumps
James R | On 30, May 2016
Director: Rob Letterman
Cast: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Amy Ryan
Watch Goosebumps online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
If you didn’t grow up reading Goosebumps, R L Stine’s kid-friendly horror stories, you’ll have heard of them. The novels have sold thousands upon thousands of copies worldwide, creeping young teens out of their adolescent skins for years. It’s perhaps a surprise, then, that it’s taken so long for someone to make a full-blown, big-budget movie based on the franchise – the family-ready premise and built-in audience of young fans and nostalgic 90s kids make it a reliable hit.
Even more surprising, though, is the approach the film takes. Rather than adapt a single short story, the script puts all of Stine’s monsters on the screen at once, as they unite to attack the sleepy town of Madison, Delaware – a place where Jack (Minnette) and his mum (Ryan) have just moved. Soon, he finds himself intrigued by the mysterious neighbour next door (Black), not least because of his daughter, Hanna (Rush).
You can hear the predictable romance coming a mile off, but it’s fortunately drowned out by the noise of the spooky spectacle waiting to burst onto the screen. Director Rob Letterman lines up creature after creature with childlike glee, using top-notch effects to bring the monster mash to life with a playful peril that captures the experience of reading the books. The tone may be lighter, but care is taken to mount an impressive variety of ghouls and giggles: sinister garden gnomes wield mini-pickaxes, abominable snowmen tear down buildings, while Slappy the ventriloquist dummy runs around shouting bad puns at anyone who will listen.
The love for the material is most apparent in the script’s over-arching narrative, which (not unlike The Pagemaster and Inkheart) places a welcome emphasis on the power of reading and imagination. As much as this is a money-maker for publishers Scholastic, there’s a commendable chance that it could inspire youngsters not only to buy a book but also pick up a pen and start scribbling themselves.
For a film that values writing so highly, though, it’s a shame that male screenwriters Darren Lemke, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski fail so miserably when it comes to penning a female character. The cast are all good, from Black’s hammy recluse to Minnette’s likeable lead, but Odeya Rush is wasted in a role so two-dimensional it barely makes it off the page. Jillian Bell gets to be brave and funny as Jack’s quirky aunt, Lorraine, but compared to her, Hannah feels like a non-entity. Nonetheless, for pure entertaining chills, Goosebumps is a hoot to watch and sure to drum fear (and fun) into the hearts of kids of all ages.