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‘Goosebumps’ is Just Clever Enough to be Worth It

The plot never stops moving forward, and by its very nature, the film never runs out of interesting things to show the audience.

Goosebumps approaches adapting RL Stine’s incredibly popular young adult horror series from a very skewed angle. Rather than selecting one of the series’ many stories, it instead brings the stories to the real world. It begins with Zach (Dylan Minnette) moving to small town from New York with his mother (Amy Ryan). He struggles with the move, but quickly finds a connection with his next-door neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush). The thing is, her dad (Jack Black) appears to be really strange and overprotective. One night, Zach overhears what appears to be some sort of tussle inside their house. Concerned for Hannah, he sneaks into the house, hoping to save her from her dad.

What he finds inside are the original manuscripts of the Goosebumps books. As it turns out, Hannah’s dad is RL Stine. And it also turns out that these books are little prisons for all the monsters that Stine has cooked up. Zach unwittingly unleashes these monsters, who aren’t very happy about being cooped up in the manuscripts. The whole town is quickly beset with monsters, and it’s up to Zach and his friends to save the people from a very grisly fate.

Those looking for a straightforward horror tale will be pretty disappointed. The film goes through a bunch of different genres in its first act. It starts off as a family dramedy, and then becomes a fairly tepid teen romance before becoming a Rear Window riff. The film eventually settles on a pretty standard action movie setup, complete with big, frantic VFX-heavy set pieces that have the characters physically taking on dangerous threats. And this is all held together with large applications of comedic glue, the film filling every quiet moment with jokes.

It gets pretty messy at times, but there is some wit and cleverness to all these shenanigans. The plot never stops moving forward, and by its very nature, the film never runs out of interesting things to show the audience. The characters must fend off one monstrous threat after another, each brought to life pretty well by the solid visual effect. And the monsters do bear some personality beyond the basic identifiers for their ilk. The werewolf, for example, exhibits behavior that’s clearly drawn more from vicious dogs than movie monsters. It’s touches like these that make the film entertaining.

The film’s young lead, Dylan Minnette, might be the weakest link of this film. He just seems a little bland, and the film’s sense of humor doesn’t quite fit the young actor’s overall demeanor. It might have benefitted the film to find someone a little stranger looking. Faring better is Odeya Rush, who feels entirely appropriate in her role. Jack Black channels Orson Welles in his performance as RL Stine, and while this doesn’t provide much opportunity for depth, it is a source of constant amusement. The supporting cast is made up of strong comedy players, like Ken Marino and Jillian Bell, who in very small scenes pretty much steal the show.

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What Goosebumps lacks is an emotional core. There’s certainly an attempt at it, but it just kind of falls apart in the end. Having said that, there is value to the thrill ride construction of this film. And the postmodern approach to adapting the series is actually pretty clever at times. If nothing else, this is a weirdly good introduction to the novels. The film, in its skewed approach to adapting the material, makes a pretty good case for the books. It treats them as portals to another world, the film depicting literature as a literal escape from mundane existence.

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Goosebumps
Adventure, Comedy, Family
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