Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark ★★★★½

85

An autumn ode to innocence lost and reality's lingering, omnipresent stain, whether embodied in the people of the present or the names of history. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark depicts a world where children start to grapple with the very-real horrors beyond the drive-in - that the scariest stories are often real, and are always in the process of being re-written. It isn't that scarecrows or spiders or boogeymen aren't terrifying (as it is seen in this film, they very much are), but they pale in comparison to draft notices, systemic racism, and old town secrets, haunting the air and refusing to shed their light, instead consuming a new generation of victims. So much of this is rooted in that final year of going trick or treating, fall turning to winter, and soon after, a child reckoning with adulthood. Yearning to get back what was already lost.

But what a risk Scary Stories is. It isn't an anthology film like you'd expect, instead committing to a story that provides context to set-pieces of sheer terror. Outside of isolated incidents of monsters and ghouls is a restless Halloween night, Nixon's '68 presidential election, a prosperous paper-mill family mansion now boarded up and stuffed with spooky tales, and the confrontation of a world uncaring, violent, and cruel. As fun as the film is in fits and starts, Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark is hopelessly melancholic, and dependent on the idea that as much as stories scar, they also heal. The truth may hurt, but it defines a future of hope.