Film Critic Rory Applin reviews another 2018 sequel to a movie with ‘Halloween’ in the title: Goosebumps 2 Haunted Halloween
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween has been in many senses a difficult film to review due to the fact that, at the risk of sounding overly critical, it is completely inconsequential. The content of the film itself seemed to escape my mind as soon as I finished watching it. This is not to say the film is awful in any sense; it is just repressively average and immemorable.
The film follows the story of Sarah (Madison Iseman), a high school senior struggling to write her university application letter; her brother Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor), a science nerd struggling to finish his school project; and his best friend Sam (Caleel Harris) a would-be entrepreneur struggling to get his ‘lucrative’ rubbish removal business off the ground. After the two boys clean out an old, abandoned mansion that falls entirely into the realm of classic (if not slightly cliché) horror movie tropes, they find a manuscript for an unreleased Goosebumps novel. As those who have seen the first film will know, the series is set in a reality where the Goosebumps novels and their author R.L. Stine (Jack Black) really exist, and the monsters of the books can escape their respective manuscripts and terrorise people. This is a fairly fun and inventive spin on the source material – and of course this is exactly what occurs when the evil puppet Slappy (voiced by Mick Wingert, replacing Black) reappears. Slappy intends to ‘bring Halloween to life’ by turning costumes into real life monsters which run around destroying the town, forcing the three kids set out on an adventure to stop him. Not exactly a Christopher Nolan narrative, but what did you expect?
The performances of the film’s three young leads are excellent and definitely a highlight of the film. All three deliver their witty dialogue well, another enjoyable aspect of the film, and the chemistry between them feels genuine. However, while Taylor and Harris both recently starred in genuinely terrifying Stephen King adaptations – IT (2017) and this year’s Hulu original series Castle Rock, respectively – don’t expect Goosebumps 2 to be anywhere near as horrifying. This film ultimately remains a kid-friendly family adventure movie, with the focus being almost entirely on the comedic and not the scary. Although the film does use some horror movie techniques – such as jump scares and a chilling score – it never really creates a significantly eerie experience for the audience. This is to be somewhat expected (as this is obviously a family film), though is still disappointing. However, this may be slightly too judgmental since university students are perhaps not the primary target audience of this film! Only once during the film is there any real shock factor, this being when the mother of Sonny and Sarah is briefly turned into a ventriloquist dummy, with the CGI facial animations applied to actor Wendi McLendon-Covey’s face being genuinely disturbing. Whether this is the desired effect of the CGI or whether it is accidentally lurking in the ‘uncanny valley’ is unbeknown to me.
Jack Black’s presence in the film is sorely missed, as he does not have nearly as dominant a role as he did in the previous Goosebumps instalment. This is due to a conflicting schedule as Black was filming the strangely-similar The House with a Clock in Its Walls at the same time. He only makes a small cameo towards the end of this movie, meaning that his skills as an excellent comedic performer are mostly absent in this film. Black’s busy schedule also meant that he did not have enough time to reprise his role as the voice of Slappy and as such is replaced by Wingert, which has an undeniably odd effect on the movie. Wingert’s voicing of Slappy is largely impressionistic of Black’s comedic style, prioritising this over capturing the terror of Slappy’s villainy. This choice represents the underlying disappointment of Goosebumps 2 – that it chooses forgo its potential to be frightening as well as simply entertaining.
VERDICT: Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is by no means going to be regarded as a classic Halloween film, and if you are looking for a frightening Halloween experience, this is not the film to see. Although, to be perfectly honest, I am sure no one expected that from Goosebumps. It does manage to be a fun, family comedy that is actually quite humorous – although not enough to truly escape its flaws and overall mediocrity.