2015’s Jack Black headlined Goosebumps took a franchise with a history of campy screen adaptations and spun it into something more reminiscent of Misery than the 90s Goosebumps series currently available on Netflix, if I can be forgiven for a comparison to a ‘Steve’ King story.
Between the references to the book series and some very clever comedic moments, Goosebumps told a wonderfully nuanced story about a person’s impact on the world. We would all prefer to be able to keep the good with you at all times and lock away the bad forever, but nothing is ever that simple and bottling up the bad, or imprisoning a psychopathic ventriloquist dummy named ‘Slappy’ in a book in this case, is a recipe for disaster.
Sadly, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween follows up with a film that feels far more like the TV series, but with a much bigger budget.
The film begins with Sonny and Sam (Jeremy Ray Taylor and Caleel Harris, respectively) discovering a book which, when opened, conjures Slappy into the world. The dummy promptly decides that Sonny and Sam are his new family. The early story of this film is breezed through pretty quickly and, to be honest, I have some questions about Slappy’s appearance. Is this the same Slappy as the previous movie? Are all instances of Slappy in R. L. Stine’s manuscripts the same Slappy? Or is each manuscript a singular, discrete Slappy?
My desire for logic aside, there’s nothing wrong with the film’s story or the way it puts together its world. If anything, the slightly ‘on the nose’ method of establishing Slappy’s motivation and, conveniently, the core theme of the film is much closer to the style of storytelling in the Goosebumps books than the 2015 film, so there’s an argument to be made that this is a much better adaptation of the books, even if the finished film feels less satisfying.
But, of course, this film isn’t really for me and there is plenty going on for kids to enjoy. There are some light horror scares, including one early on jump scare that caused a scream in my screening from someone who did not expect it. There’s plenty of giggles and slapstick and, for the parents, there are a couple of surprises and a wonderful call back to the ‘Steve King’ bit from the first film.
Madison Iseman (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) really holds the film together as Sarah, Sonny’s older sister, although she is strangely accepting of what is going on once it’s all revealed to her. Wendi McLendon-Covey (The Goldbergs) and Chris Parnell (Hotel Transylvania 3: A Monster Vacation) do well with the ‘human’ side of the film, especially with their scenes together, but could have used some closer direction when they interacted with the ‘horror’ elements.
While I’m sure kids will get a lot of kicks out of Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, the thing I’d say will give it any kind of longevity is that it sets up for a third film that is really interesting.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is in cinemas now.