OPINION BY ERIC DEUTZ
As we move deeper into October, moviegoers are on the constant lookout for a good scare.
Generally, these scares come in the form of invisible spirits or gore-addicted psychopaths with a strange affixation for chainsaws. But over the past couple of weekends, I’ve had the chance to see a couple of movies looking to spook its audience in different ways.
“Goosebumps,” the latest Jack Black vehicle, is based on the popular children novels by R.L. Stine enters theaters as one of very few in the depleted “family horror” genre.
“99 Homes,” meanwhile, tries to stir up nightmares by depicting one of the scariest real-life situations imaginable – eviction. Neither of these movies fails to spook and entertain. But when it comes to telling a story… well, they could both take a lesson from the ghosts of Halloween films past.
In “Goosebumps,” Zach (Dylan Minnette) is the new kid on the block when his mother takes a new job in the middle of nowhere, Delaware. His cranky next-door neighbor doesn’t make things any better – until Zach realizes this wide-eyed weirdo across the fence is actually the famous “Goosebumps” author R.L. Stine (Jack Black). When all the monsters from Stine’s books accidentally get released into the world, it’s up to Stine, Zach and his new friends to return them to the bookshelves from whence they came. Essentially, it’s “Jumanji” for a new generation.
The story and characters are as boring and cliché as they come, but the movie moves along quickly enough that there’s no real time to get frustrated with any of that, and watching the many monsters, ghouls and demonic puppets come to life is never anything less than a ton of fun.
In “99 Homes,” Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is a struggling construction worker living with his mother (Laura Dern) and son (Noah Lomax). When Dennis’s debt to the bank becomes insurmountable, the Nash family is evicted from their home. In desperation, Nash accepts a job from Rick Carver, a real estate owner – and the same man who evicted Nash in the first place (played by Michael Shannon, who was just nominated for a Gotham Film Award for his tyrannical performance). As Carver’s right-hand man, Nash finds himself earning his home back by kicking other families out of their homes. This, as director Ramin Bahrani would have us believe, is morally despicable – but it never actually comes across that way. The entire conflict seems to hinge on the belief that as Americans who lived through the housing crisis, the audience sees the people who carry out evictions as big, bad wolves, rather than people doing a dirty job that, hey, somebody’s got to do. But portraying them as the former and not the latter reads as unfair, shallow and far too simple.
If you’re looking for scares, you could certainly do worse than these – the “Goosebumps” monsters are gleeful Halloween fare, and the first eviction scene from “99 Homes” is one of the scariest things I’ve seen on the big screen all year. In the end, however, neither film tells a realistic story. At least “Goosebumps” was never going for realism in the first place.
99 Homes: C