Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

“Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is a great title for an anthology horror movie in which the run time is comprised of various tales of terror. Alas, to my surprise “Scary Stories” is not an anthology movie. Rather, it is a straightforward thriller about a teenage girl named Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) who steals a handwritten book of stories from a creepy old house (is there any other kind in these movies?). She and her friends pay the price for it as the book writes its own new spooky tales based on their deepest fears that come to life and terrorize them.

Much like an anthology movie in which some stories are inevitably better than others, in “Scary Stories” some of the ghouls that attack the main group of characters are better than others. The first one, involving a scarecrow and a teen punk named Tommy (Austin Abrams), is pretty effective in an old school Stephen King kind of way and is a good kickoff for what’s to come. Another effective one involves Stella’s friend Chuck (Austin Zajur). His story involves both a psychological and monster component and is, for me, the freakiest one of all. The stories involving Sarah’s other friend Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and love interest Ramón (Michael Garza) are a bit more ho-hum garden variety campfire tale scares. They’re scary in a more visceral way. The one deviation in theme is with Chuck’s sister Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn). Her tale sways away from monster horror and into body horror, capitalizing on every pretty teenage girl’s worst nightmare.

The main story is of course Stella’s, and it involves the house, the book, and a young girl who once lived there named Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard). This plot line adds an element of mystery to the horror as the friends need to unravel what is happening, and why, to keep the next one of them from getting attacked by the book’s newest ghoulish creation.

“Scary Stories” is pitched at a young adult level, with a bit more emphasis on the adult rather than the young. The movie is rated PG-13, and this is one of those movies where the age in that rating makes a difference. Whereas something like “Goosebumps,” which is a bit more comical and silly, is fine for tweens (8 to 12 year olds), I think most in that age group would find “Scary Stories” a bit too intense. This is, however, pitched at just the right level for teenagers since it involves characters who are teens and it doesn’t pull the punches the way a more child friendly movie would. Nor is “Scary Stories” so horrific as to be a more mature, adult-oriented movie. It finds the right balance between character, story, and horror, and hits it just right for the target audience. Kudos to director André Øvredal for that accomplishment. Rent it.

Also New This Week

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

“Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” doesn’t mess around. Just look at the title. That is not one, but two ampersands. Neither this movie nor its title cares to waste time by slowing down and spelling out words like “and” when they can use a one character symbol that does the same job.

The action starts right away as a cybernetically enhanced team of terrorists led by a man named Brixton (Idris Elba) attacks an MI-6 squad procuring a super virus. In the spirit of wasting no time with things like character development or revelations, Brixton, when asked who he is, straight out says, “I’m the bad guy.” Glad that’s cleared up quickly so I wasn’t confused for the rest of the movie. Brixton is part of an international syndicate with plans to wipe out the “weak” of humanity and take over the world. This syndicate also has control of the news narrative and can propagandize, misinform, misrepresent, and flat out lie to the masses to get what it wants. This is a very timely story element given the political polarization and confirmation bias that comprises the news and social media today.

The lone survivor of the attack is MI-6 agent Hattie (Vanessa Kirby). In spite of the fact that the virus is in a reasonably sized case that probably weighs no more than ten pounds and can easily be transported, she injects herself with the virus and makes an escape. Soon after, we see our titular heroes Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) kicking butt and taking names in a tongue in cheek show of strength montage.

Ryan Reynolds then has a cameo role as a wisecracking, motor mouthed, Ryan Reynolds-type character and sends Hobbs on his way to London, where he is reunited with Shaw, and we’re reminded how much the two dislike each other. Complicating things is the fact that Hattie is Shaw’s sister and she may be catching feelings for Hobbs. The reunion of the two characters leads to some great banter and insults, which keeps the tone light and fun.

This more whimsical approach lasts for about an hour of this two hour and fifteen minute movie. At about that point, “Hobbs & Shaw” becomes more of a straightforward actioner and takes itself more seriously. Sure, there are some fun moments here and there, like another funny cameo by Kevin Hart and a sequence in which Hobbs and Shaw each need to walk down separate hallways, disarm guards, and use one of their IDs to open some doors, but the laughs for the most part dry up. Once they do we’re left with a bloated, big budget action movie with some inventive stunts—but less fun. Suspense is minimal in a movie like this since it’s a fairly forgone conclusion that our heroes will come out okay no matter how crazy things get, so as exciting as the stunts are on paper, I basically just found myself waiting them to end so the story can move along already. Stream it.

More New Releases: “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” about a dog named Enzo who recalls the life lessons he has learned from his race car driving owner, Denny, starring Amanda Seyfried, Milo Ventimiglia, Kathy Baker, and Gary Cole; and “The Kitchen,” about the wives of New York gangsters in Hell's Kitchen in the 1970s who continue to operate their husbands' rackets after they're locked up in prison, starring Elisabeth Moss, Melissa McCarthy, and Domhnall Gleeson.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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