Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark ★★★★

"We are defined by our stories" declares the opening of this film. It's an idea that changes meaning throughout the film, and one that ends with haunting poignancy and resonance. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a summertime masterwork of blockbuster filmmaking, a tour-de-force of retro horror thrills, and the perfect sleepover film actualized.

The formal flourishes Ovredal employs are absolutely orgasmic. This is a film so hyperfocused on getting the meticulous of its atmosphere rich; its glossy colorful visuals, the 70s vignettes, the raw and primal soundscape; it allows to extrapolate legitimate fear out of something that could otherwise be silly. The kill sequences in this film are iconic, due to editing, pacing, creature design, body horror that skirts the pg-13 rating, and other crazy haunted funhouse ways of optic trickery that dazzles every part of me. It's more than homage, certainly not a deconstruction, just a recreation of everything that made these movies of the past tick.

And god, does this movie have GDT's finger prints all over it. It has subversive and witty writing, cosmically evil teenagers who spout racist insults, an oppressive and borderline psychotic police force, earnest and bountiful emotionality, and nuanced political subtext. Childhood trauma melds into adult trauma the longer the summers goes on. Fears of having everyone leave you, fears of losing sense of rationale, fears that your nightmares will come true, fears of being pulled over for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What's more scary, legions of hellish creatures coming to steal kids from bedrooms into a negative space unknown, or a government turning against its people to steal children from their bedrooms into a physical hell, a place where they'll be forsaken to die and most likely forgotten in the face of unending cruelty? When do the stories we pass down stop being just stories and start being places of catharsis? When will the past no longer define our present?

This film provides no answers, seeing as it ends on a cliff hanger, but its questions about the awkward transitory period between teen and adult that keep people like me up at night. It's my new scary story, and for Ovredal and Toro it was theirs. No longer do fictional monsters plague, we're only left with baggage we can synthesize into stories so that one day we can make an impact on somebody else. Whether it be the abuse of Sarah Bellows or the abandonment of the main character, Stella (who incidentally become one in the most literal sense), we can all hope that one day we find peace and resolution.

Naysayers will decry this film for its expository nature, or malign its orange-teal palette, or its sequel baiting, but honestly fuck that noise. This is one of the most creatively invigorated blockbusters I'v seen in a while, and I'll defend this and any potential sequels it has in the future.