Well, what can I say? Thoroughly impressed by this outing from Guillermo del Toro, and for those of you saying “I’m not really into his movies”, go see this, as it isn’t a usual del Torro flick!
The backstory to the film is all about how a rich family – the Bellows – (it’s always the rich) lock their ‘different’ daughter, Sarah, in a cellar room, away from everyone and everything. There, she wiles away her time reading, and writing stories which she read aloud to local kids through a grate in the wall. That those kids went on to die in mysterious circumstances, was blamed on the stories she told and so on Sarah. Unable to take it anymore, Sarah hanged herself.
Cue the present day and Hallowe’en night, of all nights. Stella, Auggie and Chuck are embarking on their last trick or treat night, with one thing in mind – to pay Tommy the bully back for always having stolen their candy. Needless to say, finding shit instead of candy didn’t go down too well, and Stella et al. end up hiding in the car of draft dodger Ramon at the drive-in. Tommy and his cronies thwarted, the gang, including Ramon, go to visit an old abandoned house where the daughter, who was hidden away in the basement, killed herself.
The group, thanks to Ramon’s lock picking skills, get into the basement room and Stella finds Sarah’s storybook. In the meantime, the goon squad have located them and decide to lock them in the basement room, then leaving them. Panic ensues until the lock is released by the spirit that haunts the house.
The gang flees, Stella with the book, and return home. Safely in her room, Stella opens the book to the last story which is called ‘Harold’. It piques her interest as ‘Harold’ is the name of the scarecrow in Tommy’s parents’ field; a scarecrow that Tommy frequently beats with a baseball bat. Stella reads and notices Tommy’s name in the story which she finds strange and, as she runs her thumb over the title, the ink smudges, as though freshly written.
The next day, Tommy is reported missing.
Stella tries to tell Ramon about the story, but he doesn’t believe her and they argue, the book falling to the floor as they do so. They both look down to see the book open and another story being written as they stand and watch. Stella grabs the book and follows the story which tells of a toe taken from a corpse and cooked in a stew, and how the corpse comes looking for her missing toe. It is only when she reads Auggie’s name that the penny drops. Stella and her friends are being picked off, one by one, for breaking into Sarah’s room and taking her storybook.
Stella takes the book back, hoping to stop more of her friends going missing, but it is waiting for her on her bed when she gets home. All she can do is warn her remaining friends as each new story is written and try to find out the truth behind the mysterious deaths Sarah was blamed for.
The film is a fantastic insight into childhood nightmares; nightmares that make no sense at all, but which have the ability to scare us to death. We all worried our nightmares would come true and in this film, they do!
You may find the subject matter of each nightmare is pathetic and far-fetched, but try to remember one of your own nightmares or dreams. They are always far-fetched and often about the most bizarre things imaginable.
Del Toro brings all of our nightmares to life in this film and he does it so well, bringing in the ‘vengeful spirit’ who is paying back ‘anyone’ for what happened to her. It is only through Stella’s diligence that the truth comes out and Sarah is set free.