Is third time the charm? It looks so, as previous collaborations between director Rob Letterman and actor Jack Black, although financially successful, fall firmly into the ‘meh’ category. With Goosebumps, however, they have finally delivered a high-octane thrill ride through the charmingly wicked imagination of RL Stine, the man responsible for childhood nightmares of the Nineties-born generation.
Following a well-worn template – boy Zach (Dylan Minnette) moves to a small provincial town, where he meets neighbour Hannah (Odeya Rush), who is keeping a secret from him – the film has a familiar flavour, but ultimately this works in its favour, as later on the structure is broken and all literary hell breaks loose.
Goosebumps speeds up helter-skelter in the second act and never loses its momentum, providing an eye-popping feast. Cool visuals aside, it’s also full of intertextual content.
Obviously enough, the film incorporates plot elements and characters from Stine’s prose, but with the rare purpose of building them up into a complex braid of creatively used cinematic references, ranging from Fifties monster movies to the likes of Night Of The Living Dead.
So while kids will be alternately laughing their heads off and fearfully covering their eyes, accompanying adults will have their share of fun.
Goosebumps is wisely and widely auto-thematic while self-referential on many different layers, Jack Black’s performance as the fictionalised version of Stine himself being the most obvious (it even says a lot about the merciless – but nevertheless entertaining and rewarding – process of creation), so you’d better be ready to scrape those layers off.
Sony is striking while the iron is hot and already looking for someone to write a sequel, which is fine, as there is more than enough material to make a long-running franchise here.