'Goosebumps' review: Reboot brings iconic children's books back to the small screen
Courtesy of Disney+
Any kid growing up in the mid-to-late nineties and early aughts knows a thing or two about R.L. Stine's “Goosebumps.” For most youngsters, their first “real” horror adjacent experience belonged to these books which could be easily digested in one sitting. Then came the series adaptations on television and who could forget the pivotal “Stay Out of the Basement” with the dad who turned into a plant?! Nothing, of course, is sacred anymore, but showrunners Rob Letterman and Nicholas Stoller have ditched the anthology setting of the previous iteration to deliver a serialized narrative with a commendable ensemble of characters who, more or less, live up to the challenge of being the C-level version of “Stranger Things.”
Plagued with its own share of disposable CGI gunk and narrative threads that don’t always hold water across the eight episodes provided in advance to reviewers, “Goosebumps” takes refuge in Port Lawrence, Washington where a crew of unsuspecting teens are about to come face-to-face with a thirty year old ghoul hellbent on wreaking havoc. The teenagers at the center of it all take on various forms of cliche, high-school stereotypes, including Isaiah (Zach Morris), the not-so-smart high school quarterback; his gay best friend James (Miles McKenna) and brainy girlfriend Margot (Isa Briones). We also get introduced to their parents (played by Rob Huebel, Rachel Harris, and Leonard Roberts) who will surely come into play because of their actions 30 years ago that has led to the recent onslaught of freaky, supernatural activity, like finding a camera that can predict the future or a cuckoo clock that multiples people.
One person behind all the mischief is Port Lawrence newcomer Nathan Bratt (Justin Long - who becomes another horror punching bag, but is nonetheless still great at doing it) who has moved into the town’s de facto creepy mansion after inheriting it from a departed relative. The big punchline is how thrilled Bratt is that he can afford such a lavish pad on a teacher’s salary. That is until Isaiah and his pals start poking around (and throwing parties?) and inadvertently unleashing a spirit that, naturally, possesses Bratt. Cue the Travis Scott music.
In one fell swoop, the parent’s complicated past with the spirit embodying Bratt has come full circle and with it some of the weird aforementioned and otherworldly objects. The best one probably involves one of the teens, who trolls people online, turning into an actual, legitimate troll. Each episode in the season is named after a classic “Goosebumps” novel, so audiences will know what to expect, or, at least, have an idea. I say this because the “Go Eat Worms” episode took some unexpected detours and sort of felt inspired by “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” but didn’t quite reach those highs.
It helps the actors deliver a range of poignancy and genuine emotion-the fear of losing a scholarship, or the turmoil of being gay in a small town-that comes across as authentic. And Long is made for these types of roles though the way his character has been written can send mixed signals. Is he supposed to be scary? Comedic? At least in “Stay Out of the Basement,” you knew right away who the villain was.
In the end, “Goosebumps,” with all its odd music choices and deeply contrived nostalgic tendencies, manages to offer this generation a version worthy of the source material despite less emphasis on practical effects. It’s silly, rambunctious, and very weird. Then again, so were the books and if this ends up being an elementary schooler’s first dip into the horror pool, it’s probably a safe place to start.
GOOSEBUMPS debuts on Hulu and Disney+ Friday, October 13th.