by Charles Nash

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday October 16, 2015

'Gosebumps'  (Source:Columbia Pictures)

A wacky horror-comedy for tweens, "Goosebumps" is a spirited homage to R.L. Stine's series of popular children's books, which have sold over 400 million copies in print.

As a critic in his twenties who, unfortunately, never read a single entry of these novellas as a youngster (I was more of an Animorphs kid), I'm certainly not the target demographic for this film. Yet, even as a non-fan, I was genuinely surprised by the persistent level of comic energy throughout the course of the film's 103-minute runtime.

The plot is pure Hollywood formula, starting with angst-ridden teenager, Zach (Dylan Minnette) moving to a new home in the suburban town of Madison, Delaware with his mother, Gale (Amy Ryan). Struggling to cope with the loss of his father, Zach is anything but happy about attempting a "fresh start" within a new location, but he immediately catches the eye of the girl next door, Hannah (Odeya Rush). As their new friendship blossoms, Hannah's overprotective dad (Jack Black) begins to grow concerned for the safety of his daughter, although it's not clear as to why.

That is, until Black is revealed to be the famous author, R.L. Stine himself, who keeps all of his bestsellers in locked cases on his bookshelf. Upon sneaking into Stine's house one night, Zach and his dorky friend from school, Champ (Ryan Lee) open one of the various books, accidentally unleashing an abominable snowman into reality. This grave mistake ultimately starts a chain reaction resulting in every monstrous creature from Stine's bibliography magically escaping from the confines of their source material, wreaking ghoulish havoc on everything in sight. It's up to our trio of plucky adolescents and the manic Stine to save their town from supernatural chaos.

As one can expect, "Goosebumps" doesn't necessarily break any new ground with its Jumanji-esque story, but its cheeky sense of self-awareness provides the film with an endearingly silly tone that perfectly meshes with the PG-rated scares. It manages to recapture the essence of kid-friendly films that Steven Spielberg used to produce in the 1980s, striking just the right balance of menace and goofy hijinks. Lee's Champ comes off like a slimmer version of Chunk from "The Goonies," guaranteed to keep children chuckling amidst the eerie set pieces, such as one in which our heroes battle an army of mischievous garden gnomes by melting them in an oven and sticking them into the garbage disposal. (It's a cute homage to the infamous scene in "Gremlins" when Frances Lee McCain fights back against the first wave of newly hatched offspring in the kitchen.)

As for the other actors, Black hasn't been this unhinged in a long time, and it's great to see him having a blast through his enthusiastic satirization of Stine, in addition to voicing two of the iconic antagonists, Slappy the Dummy and Invisible Boy. Despite inhabiting bland teenage archetypes, both Minnette and Rush are appealing enough as the two young heroes who eventually fall for one another. Ryan, however, is completely wasted as Zach's mom, which is a shame considering that between this, "Bridge of Spies" and "Birdman," she seems to be getting marginalized an awful lot lately. (Someone, please relaunch HBO's "In Treatment" with Dr. Adele Brouse as the lead shrink and give this brilliant actress some decent work again!)

Directed by Rob Letterman, who previously collaborated with Black on "Gulliver's Travels" and "Shark Tale," "Goosebumps" is loud, dopey and goes overboard into CGI-madness during its final half-hour, but its spunky approach to such routine material is undeniably charming. It might be a bit too intense for very young tots, especially during scenes involving a giant praying mantis and a villainous clown, but the film's zany style always provides the film with a good-humored sense of spectacle.

Basically, it's "Cabin in the Woods" for kids, and I mean that as a compliment.



Stine :: Jack Black
Zach :: Dylan Minnette
Hannah :: Odeya Rush
Champ :: Ryan Lee
Gale :: Amy Ryan
Lorraine :: Jillian Bell
Taylor :: Halston Sage
Davidson :: Steven Krueger
Principal Garrison :: Keith Bolden
Officer Brooks :: Amanda Lund
Officer Stevens :: Timothy Simons
Coach Carr :: Ken Marino
Mr. Rooney :: Karan Soni
Hallway Player :: R.L. Stine
Dumb Jock :: Caleb Emery
Screaming Girl :: Gabriela Fraile


Director :: Rob Letterman
Screenwriter :: Darren Lemke
Producer :: Deborah Forte
Producer :: Neal H. Moritz
Executive Producer :: Tania Landau
Executive Producer :: Bill Bannerman
Executive Producer :: Ben Waisbren
Executive Producer :: Bruce Berman
Executive Producer :: Greg Basser
Cinematographer :: Javier Aguirresarobe
Film Editor :: Jim May
Original Music :: Danny Elfman
Production Design :: Sean Haworth
Art Director :: Dawn Snyder
Art Director :: Patrick Sullivan
Art Director :: Andrew White
Set Decoration :: Frank Galline
Costume Designer :: Judianna Makovsky
Casting :: Jeanne McCarthy
Casting :: Nicole Abellera


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