Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween
Against all odds, 2015’s Goosebumps was a fun little family movie. It combined a collective affection for R.L. Stine and an interest in quirky characters, and somehow everything clicked into place. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, however, somehow rehashes the plot of the first film while completely missing any of its charm.
Eschewing any interesting characters that might keep the audience engaged, Goosebumps 2 follows a trio of painfully bland and underdeveloped kids. Sarah (Madison Iseman) is working on her application essay to Columbia University, trying to deal with a big crush on a cute boy, and has to watch her brother while mom works. Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the aforementioned brother, is up against a deadline for his science fair project. Finally, Sam (Caleel Harris) is Sonny’s friend, and not much else. These three get themselves into big trouble when they mistakenly bring the quasi-evil ventriloquist doll Slappy to life. Slappy then does what he does best: bring monsters to life to wreak havoc on their town.
The bits about Slappy mistakenly coming to life and setting monsters loose may sound familiar. That was essentially the major conflict in the first Goosebumps, though the source of the monsters is quite different this time. Rather than unleashing the creatures created in R.L. Stine’s books, Slappy is able to animate Halloween decorations. Their town seems to go all-out for the holiday, so this dummy has plenty of raw materials to work with to torment the townsfolk.
Although the formula is similar, the core of the film is empty. Goosebumps made a point to keep Stine’s books and the author himself at the forefront of the story. Getting to revisit his crazy characters and get to know the fictionalized reclusive writer was the biggest source of both joy and the creeps. But Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween doesn’t have anything like that. We aren’t given a kooky character to drive the plot. We aren’t given the love of reading as a driving force in the scares, or any awareness of a greater meaning behind this random chaos. Instead, we’re left with uninteresting characters, a superficial plot, and no real reason to care about either.
Even with these weaknesses, Goosebumps 2 has a few bright spots. Jack Black’s brief return as Stine includes a great gag that refers to one of the biggest horror films of 2017. However, this just reminds us of what we’re missing in this version of the film. The only other character worth paying attention to is Sonny and Sam’s neighbor, played by Ken Jeong. He’s an overzealous holiday fan who has a crafting closet and a front yard to match. He’s the only one in the whole film who has some fun with his role, and he hams it up with every second on screen.
The designs of the monsters and living decorations are pretty great. The pumpkins sprout wings and the rubber masks grow legs. An impressive amount of creativity and artistry has been put into these kiddo-friendly creatures and it’s clear, again, that this could have been a much better movie.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween actively avoids all of the charm and literary homage of the original film without adding anything new to the already established formula.