Spirit Halloween: The Movie

I've seen movies based on LEGO, emojis, theme park rides, board games, a Twitter thread, and even stickers. (Remember The Garbage Pail Kids Movie?) So why not one based on a store? Actually, the makers of Spirit Halloween: The Movie are missing out on a golden opportunity for synergy by not turning vacant storefronts into pop-up theaters, showing the film in them, and then shutting down on November 2. That would make sense, right? Even without such a gimmicky release, this is little more than an extended commercial for Spirit Halloween stores, and less fun than visiting the real deal.

The story follows three friends, Jake (Donovan Colan), Carson (Dylan Martin Frankel), and Bo (Jaiden J. Smith). They're 8th graders, so Carson and Bo feel trick-or-treating is beneath them. Jake disagrees. Seeking to identify something they can do instead, he recommends a new Halloween activity, namely hiding inside their small town's Spirit Halloween store, then spending the night inside after it's closed up. It's kind of like Career Opportunities, minus Jennifer Connelly riding a coin-operated horse.

The boys are not in there alone. With them is the ghost of Alex Windsor (Christopher Lloyd), the mean old man who built half the town and died mysteriously after having a curse put on him decades before. He's looking to come back to life, but needs a body first. Inhabiting several of those crazy animatronic displays Spirit Halloween stores are known for, he proceeds to terrorize the kids. Carson's sister Kate (Marissa Reyes) arrives to help, only to get pulled into the mayhem.

I love Spirit Halloween. I take my kids there every year. It makes horror fun. Spirit Halloween: The Movie attempts to do likewise, aiming for kid-friendly horror along the lines of the Goosebumps pictures from a few years back. There are amusing moments along the way, as the store displays come to life and the boys use pieces of merchandise to fight back with. Elementary or middle school-age children who are not yet ready for advanced horror may indeed enjoy the tongue-in-cheek approach taken here.

If anything, there needed to be more of that store-related creativity. Too often, shots of the merch only serve as an ad, reminding viewers of how cool the products available at Spirit Halloween are. Incorporating them more fully into the plot would have added exponentially to the entertainment value. For a while, the film even abandons the store, sending the characters into a series of caves improbably located underneath. That's a huge misstep, even if it only occupies a few minutes. We want as much of the kids inside the building as possible.

Plenty of other things don't make sense. Why hire Christopher Lloyd for only three minutes of screen time, plus some voiceover work? Why waste Rachael Leigh Cook in a thankless role as Jakes's mom? Why not do more with Bo's creepy grandmother (Marla Gibbs), instead of just giving her a foggy eye and having her sit on a porch? Several dumb moments additionally suck out any potential suspense. For example, the kids hide in the storeroom at one point, where they frantically debate how to escape. There's visibly a telephone hanging on the wall in this scene, yet they never even consider picking it up to call 911.

If you take off the end credits and the endless production company logos at the beginning, Spirit Halloween: The Movie runs a whopping 72 minutes. That means the plot threads that might increase our interest - such as Jake's efforts to deal with his mother's remarriage after the death of his father - are left in the shallow end of the pool. Making a movie out of these pop-up stores wasn't a terrible idea. The potential was there for the kind of enjoyment you get walking through the doors of a Spirit Halloween. Unfortunately, writer Billie Bates and director David Poag only put the bare minimum of imagination into their film.

out of four

Spirit: Halloween is rated PG-13 for some scary images. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes.