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REVIEW — “Goosebumps”

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An homage to family-friendly 90s movies, Goosebumps is Jumanji-meets-Beetlejuice level fantasy and fun, right down to the Danny Elfman score.

When teenager Zach (Dylan Minnette) and his widowed mom (Amy Ryan) move to Madison, Delaware for her new job and to be closer to her sister (Jillian Bell), they unknowingly move in next door to the reclusive Mr. Shivers (Jack Black) and his sheltered, home-schooled daughter, Hannah (Odeya Rush). Sparks fly between the two teens: something Shivers forbids. After hearing screams coming from her house, Zach breaks in with the help of his nerdy, new school acquaintance, Champ (Ryan Lee), only to discover that Shivers is actually famed “Goosebumps” author, R. L. Stine. After unlocking one of Stine’s manuscripts, they soon learn that once opened, the ghastly characters from the darkest corners of the author’s imagination can leap from the page and come to life – unleashing havoc on the small town.

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Lee, Minnette, Rush and Black

As a fictionalized version of the real-life young adult author, Black delivers his best performance since School of Rock– once again proving that his enthusiastically enraged style of comedy is best served when playing opposite kids. Black channels his usual manic intensity into a hauntingly comic portrayal of a prickly, overprotective father who screams “stay away” with his glare. Black’s Stine shines when forced to rely on a band of teenagers to help him literally wrestle with his literary demons.

Black and author R.L.Stine
Black and author R.L.Stine

The rest of the cast believably sells the fantastical premise with relatable reactions and quick-witted dialogue compliments of a snappy screenplay by Darren Lempke and well-paced direction by Rob Letterman.

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Minnette’s (Prisoners, Alexander and the …Very Bad Day) Zach conveys the perfect amount of new-kid-in-town angst and misguided heroism that is magnified when combined with Rush’s spirit for adventure and danger as Hannah. Well aware of the horrors her father’s stories can manifest, Hannah is not someone who needs saving, but that doesn’t stop Zach from trying. Minnette and Rush’s natural on-screen chemistry is undeniable and their connection is crucial in setting up the emotional stakes for the third act.

Minnette and Ryan
Minnette and Ryan

As Gale, the high school’s new vice principle and mother to Zach, Ryan once again nails the “cool mom” role by bringing the same hip flair that she rocked in her role on The Office.

Bell’s nutty aunt with an obsession for bedazzling provides much of the comedy, as does Lee’s cowardly third-wheel, Champ, who provides the audience’s voice in the film.

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There are also two inept police officers played by Amanda Lund and Timothy Simons (Veep). The gag with the cops is that Lund is an over eager officer-in-training who is shadowing Simons. They share a very hilarious take-your-daughter-to-work dynamic that creates one of the funniest scenes in the film.

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I’ll admit that I knew I would love this movie very early on in the film. Perhaps it was the aforementioned 90s kid movie vibe, the Elfman score or just good old nostalgia, but Goosebumps checked all the boxes for me.

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It’s not very often that a film – especially a kid-friendly one – delivers on the promise of its trailer, its tone and its title. However, if you’re looking for a Halloween treat that’s destined to become a holiday staple such as; Hocus Pocus, Gremlins or The Monster Squad, then look no further. Goosebumps gives exactly what its name implies. 4.5/5

Goosebumps, Rated PG, is in theaters Friday.

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