Review: Goosebumps

This article was originally published to The National Student on 15th February 2016

If you never experienced the Goosebumps TV show or the books whilst you were growing up, it’s entirely possible that the movie adaptation will escape your attention.

Childish scares and twists, with endearingly cheap-looking monsters, and Jack Black, could be almost unbearable. So which of the hundreds of these classic kids’ stories did the director of the thoroughly terrible Gulliver’s Travels bring to the screen?

Surprisingly and ambitiously enough, he brought all of them and none of them.

Goosebumps follows teen Zach (Dylan Minnette), who has moved from exciting New York to the dull and suburban Madison, Delaware with his mom after his Dad’s death. He befriends the literal girl-next-door Hannah (Odeya Rush), whose father is incredibly protective, surrounding their big house with a big fence.

When Zach enlists the help of the school outsider Champ (Ryan Lee) to help break Hannah out of her father’s house, they unwittingly unleash an abominable snowman from a locked Goosebumps manuscript. In the chaos, another monster is released: the diabolical dummy Slappy (also Jack Black), who wreaks havoc upon the town over the night in rebellion against his creator, Hannah’s father, who it turns out is the author of Goosebumps, R.L. Stine (Jack Black). With glee, Slappy releases every monster that the author ever did create, upon the town.

It’s a roundly bonkers idea, but a good one for an adaptation of such lean source material.

Instead of picking any single monster (a more sensible proposition for the anthology TV series), the script picks all of them. It’s the sort of heavily 80s, demented, kid-friendly horror adventure that simply doesn’t get made much anymore.

Arguable last year’s Jurassic World was one of them, which had a nihilism and stupidity that felt anachronistic to the original’s sense of fun. However, Goosebumps wears the dementia and ridiculousness well, and is a singularly better film than the dino-adventure.

Minnette might look like his face is carved of stone, but he’s in command of charisma and comic chops. An early scene that shows him in tears whilst watching an old home video of him and his dad might not really go anywhere, but at least demonstrates that his character has personality and small nuance.

He’s matched really well by Black’s Stine, on excellent, high-energy form. Stine probably wouldn’t be half as sympathetic a character without Black, because he has to go from over-protective a-hole to a human being, which would be unconvincing without Black’s energy, which expertly matches the tonal jumps and riotous pace of the film itself.

There are significant problems however. While the monsters are an absolute joy to behold, ridiculous and compelling, they’re imbued with tiny quirks and moments that make them far more compelling than the vast majority of the supporting characters.

Any time the film’s focus jumps away from the lead characters it comes to a deathly halt.

They’re funny side characters, but are also very annoying – Lee’s Champ plays jump-rope with this line throughout, and only just manages to balance the ratio by the end of the film.

Rush as well, as the girl-next-door Hannah, though fun and never secondary, doesn’t have the chemistry with Minette to sell the romance subplot, that tonally (and incorrectly) feels more like a capital-L Love, than the simple flirtatious teen thing that it should.

What makes Goosebumps better than these flaws is the commitment.

While it’s certainly not unsettling or scary, and only pretty funny, there’s a raucous sense of fun throughout. When the set-pieces begin, they’re all largely well-put together but more importantly come quickly and leave you no room to catch your breath.

It’s a slightly uneven film that doesn’t fully capture the promise of its early scenes, but it’s an ambitious and loving one. And Slappy is the most delightful villain in any film in a long, long time.

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