Ari Sandel (director)
1h 30mins (length)
18 October 2018 (released)
21 October 2018
To make a scary movie for children is all about striking a very delicate balance.
In making 2015's Goosebumps, director Rob Letterman plucked all the right notes, with the plot following a teenager who has to save his town with author R. L. Stine's help after all the monsters from the titular franchise begin to escape from their books.
For the follow-up, filmmaker Ari Sandel has picked up where the original left off, offering up a nicely paced flick in time for Halloween with just the right amount of light frights.
Kicking off with a fresh cast and story, the film opens with friends Sam Carter (Caleel Harris) and Sonny Quinn (Jeremy Ray Taylor) as they break into an abandoned house in the fictional neighbourhood of Wardenclyffe, New York - a reference to electrical engineer Nikola Tesla's famed Wardenclyffe Tower - and stumble upon an old book inside of a wooden chest.
After opening the mysterious tome, they accidentally bring a menacing ventriloquist dummy named Slappy (voiced by Mick Wingert) back to life. Though Slappy is very creepy, he initially helps the boys by aiding them in a fight against school bullies and humorously uses his magic to pull their trousers down and knock them off their bikes.
However, Slappy soon decides that he needs to become a Quinn, and when he is rejected, fends off attempts by Sonny's older sister Sarah Quinn (Madison Iseman) to conceal him, and kidnaps their mother Kathy Quinn (Wendi McLendon-Covey), as part of a plan to build his own family.
Of course, Slappy decides to wreak havoc on the town on the night of Halloween, and heads into a local drug store in order to bring scary costumes to life. With an army of vampires, aliens, pirates, trolls, the Abominable Snowman and the Bride of Frankenstein, the puppet heads towards the Wardenclyffe Tower in an attempt to use the energy source as a means of causing as much destruction as possible.
Harris and Taylor turn in natural performances as inquiring schoolboys, and it is especially delightful to watch them fight off a legion of animated gummy bears in front of a sleeping grandmother in one scene.
Iseman does a nice job of playing the serious older sibling who is dealing with all sorts of teenage issues, including a wayward boyfriend and a critical college admission essay, while remaining calm and determined when tackling the situation at hand.
Playing a single mother who works double shifts at a nursing home, McClendon-Covey grounds the story with her witty banter, especially with pharmacy owner Walter (Chris Parnell), and Ken Jeong brings his signature hilarity to his part as Mr. Chu, the Quinns' decoration-obsessed neighbour.
Once again Jack Black returns for appearances as Stine, yet it is a little disappointing that he only has about 10 minutes of screen time when there was opportunity for his character to be much more involved.
To appeal to a wide October audience, Sandel explores themes of teamwork and fear, though tempers the scariness of Slappy with the meekness of the other monsters. And while the adults may be able to anticipate scares, younger children will undoubtedly be concerned by the dummy's unrelenting behaviour - so best leave Goosebumps 2 to kids over the age of eight.