Nostalgia and horror. This is more than a trend, this is becoming a genre. Playing on tropes and cliches, when done correctly, can connect an audience to a theme and bring them into the world that is being created. More often then not, it is overused and leads to “genre” films that pander to a younger audience. How this film didn’t fall into these traps, while staying within the confines of its PG-13 rating is saying a lot.
Set in the fall of 1968, four teens stumble upon a hidden room in an abandoned house. Inside they find a storybook belonging to young Sarah Bellows, whose cruel family kept her locked in the room. Once the book was out of the house, the kids worst nightmares begin to hunt and kill them, one by one.
At the center of the story is Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), she has a knack for writing and is in love with all things monster and ghoulish. She struggles to connect with her single father while he is busy working and you can tell there is a weight of something unspoken. Her pals, played by Gabriel Rush and Austin Zajur, are her only friends and bring levity to the story while also helping with the body count. Rounding out the main heros is Michael Garza, who plays a somewhat mysterious drifter trying to pass through town unnoticed. The group begins to realize that the book writes its own stories, with the kids being the main characters, always meeting a gruesome end. In order to save themselves they dig deeper into the mystery of who is writing the stories and why.
Director André Øvredal has a great sense of visual storytelling, no doubt aided by producer Guillermo Del Tor. It is no wonder that André was selected though, with his work with practical and CGI on Trollhunter, I know I was excited to see what he would be doing with this material. The best parts are in the filmmaking, you can have tropes and cliche, but if you can’t visually sell it, you’re just another movie. He has fun with different camera angles and clever shots, notably with a dismembered arm. The design of the different creatures is unique and quite memorable, on the heels of another “haunted house” type film, Annabelle Comes Home, with a myriad of different monsters seemingly fighting for the next spinoff in an inevitable shared universe. André also is a student of horror, there was more than one occasion when I saw influences from Romero, House on Haunted Hill, and even what seemed to be an homage to The Shining with the ending helicopter shot of the car driving through a wooded hillside.
All of this, and the actual scares make this another great entry into the horror films of the past few years, easily earning a spot near the top just for the sheer amount of fun I had watching it.