Film Review: Goosebumps

by Sam Robinson

Rated PG. Starring Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush. Directed by Rob Letterman.

Is a Goosebumps film here twenty years too late?

That’s the question that stuck in my mind as I heard the announcement of the big screen adaptation of R.L. Stine’s spooky novel series of the 1990s. I remember how hard it was to get Goosebumps from the library as a kid – the books were always in high demand. I also remember that the books were banned from the local Christian school. But most of all, I remember the adventures that lay within the pages as different monsters came to life. Monster Blood, The Cuckoo Clock of Doom and Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes – all titles that would suit a B-grade schlock film, yet loved by kids the world over.

Yet Goosebumps, here in 2016, is really nothing like the original books. Rather than adapt single stories to the big screen, Rob Letterman (Monsters vs. Aliens, Gulliver’s Travels) has directed a film that is really more Jumanji or Gremlins than it is Goosebumps. In a way, it appears to be an attempt to sell Goosebumps novels to a whole new generation.

Teen Zach (Minnette) moves to small-town Delaware with his mother, meets the girl next door Hannah (Rush), and of course – gains an instant crush. But Hannah’s recluse father, who is revealed as Goosebumps author R.L. Stine (Black) warns Zach to keep well away from Hannah and his house. Doing the opposite, Zach opens a lock on one of Stine’s manuscripts and unleashes the abominable snowman of The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena fame. Soon a werewolf is racing through a supermarket, garden gnomes are throwing knives, and creepy dummy Slappy is lighting fires. The only way to fix the problem is to capture the monsters Pokemon-style back in the manuscripts.

There are laughs to be had here, and Goosebumps is quite a fun option for a family flick – but it will no doubt scare small children. A creepy clown was enough to give me chills. Unfortunately, the film does spend too much time poking fun at itself, book sales, and R.L. Stine in particular, which requires some background knowledge (from the 90s) of the books. This may be isolating for some viewers.

Of all the monsters that get loose, dummy Slappy is the ringleader of the mayhem. He refers to Stine as ‘Papa’ and is even voiced by Black – after all, Stine is his creator. But his agenda is to cause trouble, and do all he can to rebel against Stine.

It’s interesting that we too treat our creator like this. The Bible tells us that by default, we are in a state of rebellion against God, turning away from him and stubbornly refusing to live his way (Romans 3:12). Thankfully though, God has given us his Son Jesus, who didn’t rebel, but instead following his Father’s will to the point of dying for us – taking our rebellion upon himself (Rom 5:6-8). Slappy is insistent in his rebellion, and we are too – but for us, there’s an opportunity to come humbly before our God and ask for forgiveness.

The Verdict: Goosebumps is a fun kids flick that rides the wave of nostalgia, but doesn’t offer much for the now grown-up fans of the original novels. 3/5

Goosebumps releases in Australian cinemas this Thursday 14th January, and is currently screening in the USA and UK.

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