(PG) Starring: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush

Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) and his mother have moved from New York City to Delaware and the teenager is less than enthusiastic about this transition in life. They are both still mourning the loss of his father and to add to the stress of the move, his mother has a new job as the vice-principal of the local high school. Along with the many challenges of moving into a new community, Zach finds out that their next door neighbour is an eccentric, reclusive and unfriendly author. On the positive side of things, the writer has an adventurous and beautiful daughter, Hannah (Odeya Rush). Zach comes to realise his neighbour is R. L. Stine (Jack Black), the man behind the bestselling Goosebumps books. Stine is trying to protect the world from his books, because if the original manuscripts are opened, they come to life and have the potential to wreak havoc. Unaware of this potential disaster, Zach and his friend Champ (Ryan Lee) try to rescue Hannah from her father and accidentally open a book. With this one innocent act, they unleash the Goosebumps personalities on their local community.


For the fans of the children’s horror/humour book series, this is an opportunity to reconnect with some of their favourite players of terror. The first big-screen blast of Goosebumps opens a new chapter in all of the classic Stine books, while also allowing them all to come together for one night of terror. In the same vein as Gremlins and Goonies, Goosebumps combines horror, humour and children’s fiction. Rob Letterman (Gulliver’s Travels) directs Jack Black and company through an adventure that is reminiscent of those iconic 1980s horror/comedies. While Letterman’s movie does not match their levels of classic family entertainment, its good enough to make it worthwhile seeing Goosebumps in cinemas. Black’s over-the-top acting style is perfect for this subject material, which is ripe with possibilities for minor scares and big laughs. He is surrounded with strong, young talent that works well against his antics.

The key weaknesses of Goosebumps are in the area of balance. One weakness is that there are so many monsters on-screen that, ultimately, they overwhelm the storyline. Ventriloquist dummy Slappy is central to the story and the villainous ring leader but, with the introduction of each horrific character, the fear factor diminishes. The second balance issue is attempting to find Stine’s complementary knack for humour and horror. He has an ability to provide the right amount of humour to keep the horror from being too real. Unfortunately, Letterman’s direction does not find this symmetry. These weakness do not derail the film, but make it an average film as opposed to exceptional. While Goosebumps capitalises on Jack Black’s style and never attempts to take itself too seriously, it is about as enjoyable yet forgettable as popcorn.


What are the bigger questions we could ask our kids?

After reading the books or seeing the film based on Goosebumps, there are many opportunities to talk with children about fear (or, even, humour). Yet, one of the key elements to discuss with these humour/horror stories is ‘the twist’. R.L. Stine states that the twist provides the key component that defines the story (and this also provides one of the best lines in the film). ‘The twist’ is not something that is new to writing, but some of histories best stories have unique twists that determine the fate of the central characters and make the story endearing. This can even be said of the story of Jesus’ life and death. Even though the twist is telegraphed throughout the first part of the Bible, his resurrection still is the defining ‘twist’ in history.

It is the one event that continues to surprise and influence society today and is the one twist that is worth considering.

  1. Are there such things as ghosts and spirits? (Leviticus 19:31, Deuteronomy 18:11)
  2. What do we do about things that scare us? (Isaiah 41:7; 2 Timothy 1:7 )


Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger


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