Directed by: Rob Letterman
Premise: Based on the book series by R.L. Stein. A high school student discovers that his next door neighbor is R.L. Stein and that the author’s original manuscripts contain the monsters of his Goosebumps stories. When the monsters are unleashed all hell breaks loose.
What Works: The filmmakers of Goosebumps have come up with a fairly ingenious idea of how to turn the book series into a feature film. Rather than stretching one of the books into a feature length movie or cobbling them together as an anthology film, the filmmakers have instead devised a clever conceit. In the world of this movie, R.L. Stein is a real writer whose Goosebumps stories are bestsellers but the monsters of his books are real and quarantined in the pages of his original manuscripts. The story premise is like something out of one of Stein’s books and it ought to appeal to the target audience. Goosebumps is a family movie and the picture generally succeeds in appealing to children. Everything is tame enough for the PG-set. The movie will also appeal to those who grew up reading the Goosebumps books; this series was at its peak popularity in the 1990s and so many of the series’ original readers are now parents themselves, giving the movie a crossover appeal. The Goosebumps movie features two notable performances. The first is Odeya Rush as Hannah, R.L. Stine’s daughter. Rush is by far the most engaging presence in the movie; she possesses the innocence of youth but also the intelligence of a bright young woman. Ryan Lee is cast as Champ, the sidekick to the lead, and Lee shows some promise as a comic actor.
What Doesn’t: While Odeya Rush and Ryan Lee are good in their roles, the two key performances of Goosebumps go awry. Dylan Minnette plays the lead role and he is an unengaging protagonist. Part of the problem is on the page. The script gives him few opportunities for characterization and there is nothing interesting about him. All of the chaos is a result of this character’s stupidity but he never takes any responsibility for it. The casting of Minnette doesn’t help. He’s competent in the role but he’s also very bland. The other problematic performance in Goosebumps is Jack Black. While he is anything but bland, Black is so off the wall that he sabotages the movie. He also speaks with a very strange accent that’s distracting. Goosebumps is never very scary, even for a PG rated movie. Bear in mind, The Witches, Monster House, and ParaNorman were all rated PG and still managed to be unsettling. The Goosebumps books were quite frightening for young readers—controversially so—but the movie does not recapture the creepy thrills of Stine’s books. Part of the problem is in the special effects. The computer generated creatures are terrible, especially a werewolf that looks like a cartoon. Goosebumps also fails to scare because of its poor plotting. The story has a lot of padding. It takes quite a while before the monsters are finally unleashed and a lot of the movie consists of unrelated set pieces. Goosebumps roughly follows the format of a chase movie. The characters have to get to R.L. Stine’s magic typewriter so that he can compose a new story that will recapture the monsters. That journey should give the story a shape but instead the movie gets caught in narrative cul-de-sacs that don’t have any pay off. The filmmakers also fail to come up with anything interesting for the monsters to do. There are a lot of creatures on parade here but most of them are in the background. In the climax of the movie the characters are required to make a sacrifice that gives the conclusion some dramatic impact but this is undone in a stupid coda sequence.
Bottom Line: Goosebumps may provide some nostalgic thrills to those who grew up reading R.L. Stine’s books but the movie isn’t very good. The story is both too much and not enough and the movie isn’t very scary.
Episode: #565 (October 25, 2015)