Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Goosebumps Movie - Adoption Movie Review

Gail, a widowed mom of a teenager, has taken a position as a vice principal at a new school, so she and her teenage son Zach have just moved from New York to the small town of Madison, Delaware. Zach affirms that he loves his mother, but jokes that he also has to accompany her on the move, since he’s still a minor. Zach’s concerns are initially normal – fitting in with new peers and finding his place in a new social system, but that changes when he sees his menacing neighbor, Mr. Shivers, who hisses from the window for Zach to leave him and his daughter alone.  Shiver’s daughter Hannah is very forward, and strikes up a friendship with Zach. Shivers gives Zach one last warning that if he doesn’t leave Hannah alone, “Something bad will happen.” Zach intends to leave her alone, but then hears screams coming from Shivers’ house – Zach is worried that Hannah is being abused, and tries to rescue her. And that sets off a lot of chaos.

The Adoption Connection **SPOILERS AHEAD**

Zach is a new town, going to a new school. This will be very familiar to children who have journeyed through the foster care system.

Zach’s father has died. Zach misses his dad, and keeps a box of mementos under his bed. This might be a touchpoint, or a trigger, for kids who are missing their birthparents.

Hannah acknowledges that she and her dad are “always moving from one town to the next” and that she never knew her mother.

((SPOILER ALERT In a way, Shivers loses his daughter by the end of the film. He loves her, but she has to be sacrificed to save the world. Thankfully, he might have a way to reclaim her, but this might be quite painful for parents who’ve lost a child in any way. END SPOILER ))

Strong Points

Although he’s very mysterious and gruff, Shivers loves his daughter.

Although he’s misguided and mistaken at times, Zach is very brave.

Zach and Shivers share something – they’ve both experienced loss, and in response to the loss they’ve shut out potentially healthy and healing relationships. They both agree to try to rectify this. That could be a helpful theme to kids who’ve experienced lost relationships, if the frightening elements of the film aren’t too scary.


This is perhaps the biggest trigger warning in the film: Zach hears what he believes to be Mr. Shivers abusing Hannah. It’s pretty convincing, and it initially seems as though Shivers has abused her and hidden it. When Zach confronts Shivers, Shivers says “There was no scream. You didn’t hear anything. Get out of here, or the last scream you hear will be your own.” At one point, Hannah says “My dad’s gonna kill me,” and we wonder at least a little whether she’s just using that colloquially or whether he might really do it.  – ((SPOILER ALERT: Eventually we learn that Shivers isn’t threatening Zach with this statement, but kids might not got that, and might just leave with the impression of an adult threatening a teen with harm. END SPOILER))

There are some scenes of peril that might be too scary for young or sensitive viewers.

One protracted scene involves peril at a crowded high school. It might remind some kids of school shootings, which are often in the public consciousness these days.

Recommendations (Spoilers in this section)

Goosebumps is entertaining. It held my attention, and although I’ve never read the Goosebumps books, a friend who attended with me said it was pretty faithful to the stories of his childhood. By the end of the story, we realize that Shivers is, in a way, a devoted, loving and even maybe self-sacrificing father, and there’s also a moderately strongly stated theme of the importance of being open to others, even if you’ve experienced pain and loss. Those are good messages for kids who’ve been through foster care. At the same time, there are quite a few potential triggers including the remembered death of a parent and the apparent death of a child. Perhaps the most likely trigger is a scene where it seems that a teenage girl is being abused by her father. Your own knowledge of your child will have to be the judge whether the good messages will trump the scary scenes and triggers. In general, this might be good for kids ages 11-14 or so.

Questions for Discussion

Why was Mr. Shivers so scared to let anyone know him? Were his fears understandable? Were they justified? Is that different?

What thoughts did you have when it seemed like Mr. Shivers might have been abusing Hannah?

What’s it like to go to a new school for the first time? What do you think Zach was feeling on his first day at school? How about at the end of the movie?

Do you like feeling scared?

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