Mission Lab

REVIEW: ‘Goosebumps 2’ is kid-friendly horror. But is that OK?

October 20th, 2018 / By: Michael Foust / comments

REVIEW: ‘Goosebumps 2’ is kid-friendly horror. But is that OK?

Sonny and Sam are two hard-working tween-age boys who are trying to make a few bucks in between finishing their homework and avoiding the school bullies.

They call their new business “Junk Brothers,” and for the right price they’ll peddle to your house and haul away your garbage – using their pull-behind bicycle trailer, of course.

Their first customer, though, is far from ideal. In fact, when they show up at her house – an eerie-looking old mansion with cobwebs and creaks around every corner – she’s not there. That’s OK. She had said they could go inside and get to work without her. She even said they could take anything from the house for free!

But unless you want a stuffed cat or a huge pile of dusty old wood, this house doesn’t have much to offer.

That’s when things get interesting. Sonny and Sam discover a hidden passage. Then they find a treasure chest. And then they stumble upon an old black book with a loose business card. The front says, “My name is Slappy, what’s yours?” The back lists a magic spell, which Sonny proceeds to read. Within seconds, a ventriloquist dummy appears in the room. Sonny is startled, not knowing where it came from, but he’s also happy to find something valuable. So he takes the dummy home.

Once in Sonny’s bedroom, the dummy – named Slappy, of course – starts talking.

“I can make all your problems go away” Slappy says.

He magically folds clothes. He magically does Sonny’s homework. He even magically can beat up the school bullies.

Slappy seems like the perfect companion on the eve of Halloween … right? Well, maybe not.

The movie Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (PG) is entering its second weekend in theaters, telling the story of a ventriloquist dummy who comes to life when a book by American author R. L. Stine is opened. The movie and its predecessor are based on a series of children’s horror/supernatural thriller novels that are published by Scholastic. It stars Jeremy Ray Taylor (It) as Sonny, Caleel Harris (Castle Rock) as Sam, Madison Iseman (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) as Sonny’s sister, Sarah, and Jack Black (Nacho Libre) as Stine.

Sonny and Sarah welcome Slappy into their family until he causes havoc at school by injuring Sarah’s ex-boyfriend and nearly blowing up Sonny’s classroom. Sonny and Sarah then dump him in a lake.

He doesn’t die, though, and he subsequently pledges to find another family. He does this by magically bringing every Halloween costume and decoration at the local Fred’s store to life – witches, mummies, werewolves, zombies and a few rats, too. Soon, he does the same to all the town’s decorations, meaning that even the jack-o-lanterns and the decorative gnomes are roaming the neighborhoods.

Goosebumps 2 is part of the comedy horror genre aimed at children, tweens and teens who are too young to watch so-called adult horror but who still want to experience the thrill of a scary film. To his credit, director Ari Sandel keeps the movie in PG territory and ensures that even the few semi-scary parts are surrounded by humor. It’s tame compared to September’s other comedy horror film aimed at children, The House with a Clock in Its Walls.

This doesn’t mean there are no worldview concerns, though. (More on that below.)

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)

Violence/Disturbing

Moderate. The scary creatures in Goosebumps 2 mostly look like people in impressive costumes. That lessens the frightening element. The monsters are played for laughs, but there still are a few scary moments, led by Slappy. It’s a little creepy watching an inanimate object start talking, even if he is initially on the good side of things. When he turns bad, he turns real bad. Toward the end of the film he kidnaps a member of Sonny’s family, ties her up, and turns her into a ventriloquist. Nearly every scary moment in the move takes place at night. Small children and sensitive children likely will have nightmares.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

None/minimal. We see two teenagers kiss in public at a party. Sarah and her boyfriend nearly share a kiss but are stopped by her mom.

Coarse Language

Minimal. Misuse of “God” (5), OMG (4), h--l (2), d--n (1). We also hear a “jerk” and an “idiot.”

Other Positive Elements

Sarah displays a lack of care for her brother at the beginning of the film, but repents toward the end. Additionally, Sarah and Sonny fight to save their mom. The movie has a positive message about the family.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Sonny and Sam are bullied.

Life Lessons

The film provides lessons about bullying, the consequences of disobeying a parent (Sarah), acknowledging fault when you’re wrong (Sarah and Sonny), overcoming fear (several characters), and learning to support and love your family despite your differences (Sarah and Sonny).  

Worldview

The world of Goosebumps 2 is one where magic spells rule and monsters occasionally run wild. And it’s marketed to children. What are we to make of that?

On the one hand, it’s quite entertaining and not that scary. More significantly, though, any movie that involves a fake supernatural world can become a tool to discuss the Bible’s very real supernatural world – that is, a world that involves demons and angels and an omniscient God who rules over everything. Think about it: Your neighbor likely watches scary movies that feature a fake supernatural world, but you worship a God who reigns over a real one that’s more amazing than anything out of Hollywood. There is a spiritual battle ongoing all around us, but we have no reason to fear bumps in the night (1 John 4:4). That’s a discussion we can have with our neighbors and our children about many films.

On the other hand, we should be skeptical about any movie that glorifies evil. Does Goosebumps 2 do that? Maybe, maybe not – it is a good-vs.-evil battle -- but the film might be guilty of trivializing evil. It definitely glorifies Halloween, a modern-day holiday that often celebrates the dark world. In the film, neighbors decorate their yards with scary-looking creatures. Sonny’s school gets decorated. And Sonny and his family put up a few spooky decorations, too.

Christians remain divided over the tamer aspects of Halloween – corn candy and cowboy costumes -- but we always should shun its darker elements. And, while we’re at it, we might want to consider handing tracts or sparking a discussion with families who come to our door. Halloween is definitely pagan, but it provides a few unique opportunities not found in other holidays.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you believe Christians should celebrate Halloween? If so, how?
  2. Who was responsible for Slappy causing havoc: Sonny or Sarah? Or both?
  3. Why did Sonny and Sam want to be friends with Slappy? Was their motivation pure?
  4. Why are horror and scary movies so popular? Should Christians watch them?  

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Goosebumps 2 is rated PG for scary creature action and images, some thematic elements, rude humor and language.