Coraline would have scared the crap out me when I was a kid, and even now, when I’m pushing toward thirty (oh god), it jangles my nerves more than I’d care to admit. Too many supposedly scary movies rely on cheap jack-in-the-box shocks and splattery gore, but Coraline understands real horror, burrowing into the psyche to play on primal fears and existential dread.
By this, I don’t mean to suggest that it’s inappropriate for children. To the contrary, if you aren’t a bratty, self-involved little kid (or don’t remember what it’s like to be one, or aren’t still a bit bratty and self-involved), you probably won’t get as much out of Coraline. The warped fairy tale is about growing up, coming to realize that you’re not the center of the universe, even your parents’ universe, and who understands the angst of that lesson better than a kid? The genius of the movie, based on Neil Gaiman’s award-winning book, is that it respects kids enough to take that lesson seriously. The horror ties into the attendant angst and fears, honoring them and confronting them and earning the cathartic payoff.