By: Andrew Haas
R.L. Stine’s family horror book series Goosebumps has been popular with young children since the 1990s. Now in 2015, these books have been made into a movie. When I first heard about it, I was expecting it to be an anthology film. So I was a bit disappointed when the trailers showed it as Jumanji with monsters. But it turns out that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Zach, played by Dylan Minnette, is a teenager who has just moved to a new town where he meets a nice girl next door named Hannah, played by Odeya Rush. When he thinks her father is hurting her, Zach breaks into the house and finds a bunch of locked Goosebumps books. It turns out Hannah’s father, played by Jack Black, is author R.L. Stine and his books can unleash real monsters. Now they’re out, and the group must stop them from terrorizing the town.
The film is, in and of itself, a Goosebumps story. It has the character types (though not as young), supernatural situations, and even the twists normally found in the kids’ books. But that’s what makes the film work as a tribute to the series as a whole. The main cast of this film is very likable for the most part. Zach is a relatable lead character and shares a nice bond with Hannah. Jack Black as the author manages to be entertaining, while still being able to show a softer side. Then there’s Champ, played by Ryan Lee, who’s the comic relief of the group. He can be irritating at times, to the point where even the characters call him out on it. But he does have his moments of charm and even bravery that keep him from being completely annoying.
The best part of the film is the gallery of Stine’s monsters coming to life and wreaking havoc. Not only does it have a cool “spot the creature” element for fans, but also makes for fun set pieces and chases. Some of the creations like Slappy the dummy do come off as threatening while still being a joy to watch. It shows that the makers do have some respect for the source material and want to share that love with the viewer.
Besides that, everything else is a mix. The elements of horror are very mild, but that’s to be expected being based on children’s books. The humor ranges from clever and self-referential to frantic and trying too hard. Actually, a lot of the film feels frantic and barely gives the audience time to breathe. The side characters each have their own quirks, but few of them get a laugh. The film also has a twist with one of the characters that does add an emotional weight to the third act. But the resolution to this twist at the very end feels hastily done.
While Goosebumps is neither the scariest or even the funniest film, it is still an enjoyable ride for the family. The lead characters are good and the book monsters make for spooky fun. It’s a good film to show kids during the Halloween season and long-time fans should find plenty of things to like.