Goosebumps Review by Jason Solomons
Jack Black is just a big kid, really. His classic performance is, of course, School of Rock, in which he inspires a whole class to discover their musical inspiration. But he’s also been Gulliver on his travels, that ridiculous man-child in High Fidelity and, never forget, the eternally young Kung Fu Panda.
Now, in Goosebumps, he plays the phenomenally popular children’s horror author RL Stine, a grumpy loner who lives with his daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush) in a faintly creepy house in the small town of Madison.
However, we don’t know this yet, because he pretends to be a Mr Shivers, and doesn’t want any company - nor does he want Hannah to mix with the new boy next door, Zach (Dylan Minnette), who has just moved in with his Mum, Gale (Amy Ryan), the new vice-principal of Madison High.
One night, Zach goes looking for Hannah after he thinks he hears her screaming. In the dark, he finds a pile of manuscripts, all heavily locked. Spying a key on a table, and curious like any teenager, Zach opens a book and begins to read. Suddenly, the words on the page start to swirl and rise like a tornado and a strange light emanates from the book: we realise what’s inside is coming to life.
This is a very clever conceit, expertly done with CGI and before you can say Goosebumps, the Abominable Snowman is taking up most of the living room. And he’s hungry.
The kids run screaming to the local ice rink to fend off the Yeti which is rampaging through the town and although they eventually recapture him, with the help of Mr Stine, the calm is short-lived. When they get back home, characters from the other books have come to life, too. Particularly concerning is the malevolent ventriloquist’s dummy Slappy (voiced by Black himself), who is now ring-leading all the other monsters and creations on a warpath of revenge on their creator, RL Stine, and all headed for the local high school.
This is a very smart little film. Despite playing an old curmudgeon, Jack Black has an instant likeability beneath the surface that somehow means he can’t be truly scary, which is exactly the tone of this film. There are monsters - a werewolf, a giant preying mantis, an army of vicious garden gnomes, that vengeful dummy (“Who are you calling dummy, dummy?”) - but it never feels too threatening.
It is loud and pretty frenetic, but that just keeps the level of humour and sense of anarchic fun at a high pitch. What I liked is how it zones into the imagination and reminds its audience of the power of stories, of books and of what goes into creating them. It’s very much a film that promotes reading and writing as much as it does watching movies, and that can only be a good thing.
The young romance between Zach and Hannah keeps things sweet as well, giving the scary monster onslaught a classic high school movie element, complete with hapless gym teachers, geeky kids and, of course, a school dance.
But its Jack Black who carries the film away, playing a man who eventually comes to terms with his own fears and his responsibilities as a writer, and as a father. Yet there’s plenty of time for gags as well, such as his irritation with being compared to Stephen King and his awareness of his huge sales figures (400 million worldwide, which is actually true.)
Readers of Stine’s Goosebumps books will probably get most out of it and recognise the stories from which these ghouls have sprung, but those unfamiliar with them (er, that’s me) will be intrigued and want to seek them out, because, judging by this playful, fun, loud and spectacular movie, the books look pretty good and contain just the right amount of weird frights. And bonus points to those who spot a cameo from the real RL Stine, too.
Jason Solomons-Film Critic
To learn more about Jason Solomons visit his website where you’ll find all his latest movie reviews and interviews. You can also ‘like’ his page on Facebook and follow him on Twitter .
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