FILM REVIEW: Goosebumps

If you are looking for a chance to relive the eerie sense of humour and fear stirred up by R.L. Stine’s classic Goosebumps novels, I can honestly say you would probably have a better time re watching any one of the 74 half-hour episodes from the 90’s TV show than you would with the newly released film.

I am not saying that Goosebumps is a bad film. There was not one moment where I groaned, rolled my eyes, or considered leaving the theatre, in fact I was consistently content throughout. The problem is that the film was so vanilla and forgettable that it was essentially the theatrical equivalent of a Big Mac combo with fries and a Coke. You’re going to have a decently enjoyable time, but it’s ultimately a forgettable experience.

The characters are created in such a way that they are complex enough to avoid being completely uninteresting, but are not nearly complex enough to elicit any sense of attachment or audience investment. It is hard to care about what happens to the characters when there is no real opportunity for characterization.

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Dylan Minnette’s character, Zach, is a typical sarcastic teenager with the built-in sympathy of having a deceased father but has little else to define him as a developed human. Odeya Rush’s character, Hannah, is your typical “quirky girl next door” with a predictable twist that is evident from her first appearance. Supporting character Champ (Ryan Lee) is pretty much every nerdy, quirky, teen movie sidekick ever, essentially playing a less interesting knockoff of Pretty in Pink’s Ducky (John Crier).

While the characters were shallow and unengaging, the performers did do the best they could with the scripts they were given, and managed to pull as much intrigue out of the bland characters as any actor could reasonably be expected to. Jillian Bell had a particularly strong performance as Zach’s quirky aunt Lorraine, and I honestly would have preferred an entire film just featuring her character. Jack Black as R.L. Stine was as eccentric and fun as could be expected, but he was limited by an uninteresting script that lacked both the humour and terror for which Stine is known.

The stakes were consistently low, the twists were either nonexistent or predictable, and the story lacked complexity. The characters figure out a fairly straightforward and unoriginal solution to their problem within the first five minutes of the inciting incident, and nothing else happens to complicate that solution, raise the stakes, or add any new problems along the way, until eventually the task is completed in the most formulaic, expected way possible. The only exception to this formula is a brief b-plot involving Rush’s character that is resolved quickly and with one of the most egregious examples of “Deus Ex Machina” I have seen in contemporary film.

Goosebumps is not a bad time. It’s just not a time that will likely affect you in any way. My recommendation would be to watch all 74 episodes of the old TV show first, then re-read all of the novels, and if you still need more Goosebumps action, then amybe consider the new film.

- Steven Greenwood

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