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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Goosebumps movie review: stick with the books (#LFF2015)

Goosebumps red light

More theme-park attraction than movie, and paradoxically distastefully self-congratulatory about the Goosebumps phenomenon and insulting toward its author.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Turns out Goosebumps the movie is more Goosebumps the theme-park attraction. This is not based on one of the 200-plus (I lost count somewhere) kiddie horror-comedy books R.L. Stine has written. It’s kinda based on all of them. Because if a movie about one book is good, a movie about 200 books must be more awesomer still. When teen Zach (Dylan Minnette: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) moves to a small town with his mom (Amy Ryan [Birdman], who is completely wasted here), he discovers that his creepy new neighbor, Mr. Shivers (Jack Black: Sex Tape), has a collection of magical Goosebumps manuscripts that, if you open one, unleashes the book’s monster into the real world. Naturally, all of the books get opened, unleashing all of the Goosebumps monsters into the town. And now it’s up to Zach; his uncharming “comic” sidekick, Champ (Ryan Lee: Super 8); and Mr. Shivers’s daughter, Hannah (Odeya Rush: The Giver), to save the day. Director Rob Letterman (who previously teamed up with Black on the terrible Gulliver’s Travels) throws lots of iconic horror imagery — zombies, a living ventriloquist dummy, a werewolf, aliens, a blob, and so on and so on — up on the screen, but none of them are ever scary, not even on a kiddie level, and none of the movie’s attempts at humor — idiot cops; the fact that Champ is a PG-rated teenage horndog, ugh — are ever funny. Details vital to the plot fall apart with the barest nudge, and the meta is never clever; in fact, it combines a distasteful self-congratulatory attitude toward the Goosebumps phenomenon with the suggestion that 17-year-old Zach could, on the fly and with no preparation or particular talent, write fiction that is as effective as Stine’s, which is a terrific way to insult one of the most successful and beloved storytellers working today.

viewed during the 59th BFI London Film Festival

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Goosebumps for its representation of girls and women.

red light 2 stars

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Goosebumps (2015)
US/Can release: Oct 16 2015
UK/Ire release: Feb 05 2016

MPAA: rated PG for scary and intense creature action and images, and for some rude humor
BBFC: rated PG (frequent scary scenes)

viewed in 3D
viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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