In the first few minutes of Where the Scary Things Are I thought the title referred to Ayla (Selina Flanscha, The Night Time World) the perenially snarling leader of a clique of high school kids called The Dockers that includes Scribble (Oliver Givens, All I Want for Christmas), Bran (Quinn Andrew Fickes, All I Want for Christmas), Snack (Peter Cote, All I Want for Christmas), and Mighty (Riley Sullivan). And in a sense I was right.
After being given the assignment to create their own urban legend they sneak back into the amusement park and find out that not all urban legends are false. They discover Lockjaw, the semi-human serial killer that supposedly haunts the area and turn the creature into a viral video sensation. But to keep the hype, and the likes flowing they have to create increasingly nastier videos. And that eventually turns deadly.
Where the Scary Things Are’s publicity refers to it as “Stand by Me or The Goonies with a deliciously dark twist” but one big difference was already abundantly clear by the ten-minute mark. The kids in those films were supposed to be likable, These ones are varying shades of obnoxious and evil right from the start.
Watching Bran sitting in the car shrieking at his mother I seriously wanted her to slap him till he shut up. That, followed by Max’s (Asher Ruppert, High School Crimes & Misdemeanors) father mentioning that they’ve been videotaping and blackmailing other students, followed by a scene of Scribble actually blackmailing a teacher confirms it. These kids aren’t misunderstood or loveable outcasts, they’re a bunch of budding psychopaths being led by a female Manson wannabe.
Writer/director B. Harrison Smith’s previous films have been something of a mixed bag, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Where the Scary Things Are. Most, like Death House and ZK: Elephant’s Graveyard aren’t exactly fan favourites. But The Special is a wonderful mix of nastiness and jet-black humour. The main difference seems to be that he didn’t write that one.
But he did write this and it seems to confirm that while he can write a good non-fiction book his strengths as a filmmaker lies in the visual aspects of the medium. Where the Scary Things Are has plenty of great-looking scenes and a creature that looks like Return of the Living Dead’s Tarman on steroids. But it’s wasted on a story revolving around a bunch of unlikable assholes. If you’re going to make the bad guys the focus of the film, they have to be interesting, The Dockers are just mean little shits taken to the next level. And the ham-handed attempts at making Ayla some kind of jailbait temptress are the wrong kind of gross.
By the time one of the group develops a conscience and tries to do something Where the Scary Things Are is well past the point of saving. By the time the creature finally turns on its tormentors I was so zoned out that even seeing them get what was coming to them didn’t interest me. Maybe if the film had managed to include some gory effects or made the deaths more horrific. Instead, it seemed to want me to feel bad for them, especially Ayla as Lockjaw chases her through the park.
You can add Where the Scary Things Are to the long list of films involving YouTube, influencers and viral videos that turned out to be utter failures. The way this one is misadvertised is just adding insult to injury.
Lionsgate will release Where the Scary Things Are on DVD, VOD and Digital platforms on June 28th. It’s telling that they mention duds like Zero Contact and Mid-Century on their site, but not this film. And if that’s not quite what you’re looking for, FilmTagger has a few alternative selections.