There seems little to say about Goosebumps, except that it is a typical "family" movie, described as "safe, unmotivated and does not incur civic unrest with its sheer inability to challenge." With the exception of Jack Black, neither the actors nor their performance earn positive review. Fortune's in-house film critic, Christian Tesfaye, actually dares readers to stay away from Goosebumps, knowing that someone is likely to rise to the dare and end up equally disappointed. In a fit of generosity this movie was awarded five stars out of 10.

Like all modes of expression, art or entertainment, film has genres; and the most ambitious of them all, by definition, is the family movie. Some movies like Die Hard or The Godfather are so great we all love them, but normally, when filmmakers set out to make films, they start with a target audience. Sci-fi for geeks, musicals for dorks, romantic movies for single and insecure female audiences under the age of 20 and over the age of 40 and so on. But a family movie is a different beast. Take my family for instance.

I am cursed with a functional family. We are too normal but our differences could not be more night and day. I have a father – a very respectable man who believes in setting a good example who has not yet begun contemplating the afterlife but has completed half a century’s existence and perhaps is starting to wonder – what for? A conservatively ideal Ethiopian mother to whom the world consists of society, religion, society and religion and feels it is her duty to make her family both religiously and socially presentable. A sister who just went to collage but is still a typical high school teen who is rebellious, innocent and honest, with the world at her finger tips. A brother in kindergarten who thinks his dreams are actually movies starring his family. And I, consistently questioning my place in the universe, baffled by my existence, obsessed with Ayn Rand, enraged by the amount of injustice I am realising exists in the world and proud of the fact that I have a legitimate semi-adult mentality.

Now, can there possibly be a movie to satisfy us all either theme or entertainment wise? It is highly improbable but possible, which is to say, very hard to execute successfully. The best movies are the ones that surprise by being smarter than their intended audience, which becomes problematic when that audience is the entire household. So, family movies take a different, shameful approach; they become dumber than all of us. They pander to the lowest denominator they could find. The term “family movie” does not refer to the kind of film that everyone or anyone in the family can enjoy or attach meaning to but a movie that is appropriate for everyone, a film that barely accommodates all and sundry. A movie that does not contain graphic violence or sex; a movie that could be viewed at social gatherings because it is safe, unmotivated and does not incur civic unrest with its sheer inability to challenge.

I am not damning every family movie ever made, just Goosebumps and others like it, which happens to be almost all family movies. But that was never my intention. I love adopted books just as much I like original ones. It is my thinking that even if the adaptation turns out to be bad; at least it was made by a filmmaker that has read a book. And the process of converting book to film – to this particular movie is noteworthy, if not completely novel.

Goosebumps, the movie, is a “fictional biography” film, like Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s brilliant Adaptation. It places the author of the book the film is adopted from, in the film. Goosebumps, the children’s book series, are novellas about children that are haunted by different and imaginative monsters; one monster per novella. And the film, instead of adopting just one novella into an entire feature film brings all the monsters into life in a single movie by making R.L. Stine, the author of the books, the protagonist.

The film begins when a high school teen, Zach, a New Yorker, moves to a fictional suburban town called Madison, right next to the house of Stine and his daughter, Hannah. Situations unfold rapidly: Zach strikes a friendship with Hannah, but the very next day, he decides to investigate when he hears a disturbance coming from the Stine house. As is the burden of almost every film hero, he brings along a new friend he met at his new high school to help him out on the lookout. The purpose of this character is to annoy all the other characters and to serve as comic relief for us (or so the filmmakers think). A series of events take place once Zach breaks into Stine’s house, and the most important of them is that he opens a book by accident.

Stine, it seems, keeps books – that if opened a monster pops out – in plain sight in his study. After the first book is opened, monsters of all kinds leap out and terrorize the town, the characters device a plan of how to defeat them, a couple of predictable and unnecessary twists are thrown around and a lesson is learned. There honestly is nothing more to the movie.

I do not care to mention most of the actors in the film except of course for Jack Black, who plays Stine. When we think of him, like Jim Carrey, we think funny and caricature like but never as a serious actor. This could not be further from the truth though; both are some of the most gifted actors that ever lived. Just as I am dazed by Carrey’s performance in a film like The Truman Show, I am bemused by Black’s portrayal of a very memorable teacher in Richard Linklater’s School of Rock. Every time I see him in a film like Goosebumps, I wish I could violently shake him by the shoulders and tell him he is better than this.

All I need to do to dissuade people from seeing this film is to mention a couple of facts. The screen writer for instance is a man named Darren Lemke who also wrote the films Shrek Forever After and Jack the Giant Slayer. The director is Rob Letterman, who is also responsible for films such as Shark Tale and Gulliver’s Travel. But the incompetence of both these men is nothing compared to the fact that the film was produced by the company that gave us this year’s worst movies to hold the number one spot at the US box office: War Room, The Perfect Guy and Hotel Transylvania 2. For some reason though, I am sure, that someone who is reading this article just decided to go watch the movie.

Published on Nov 16,2015 [ Vol 16 ,No 811]



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