Based on the book of the same name by J. A. White, Nightbooks is a brand-new children’s horror-fantasy from director David Yarovesky. The movie – which lands on Netflix today – stars Krysten Ritter, Winslow Fegley, and Lidya Jewett, and tells the story of a young boy who recounts scary tales to a witch, in order to save his life.
In the movie, Alex is a fan of horror. He loves watching spooky movies and enjoys writing scary stories.
But one night, after falling out of love with his passion, Alex leaves his apartment, enters the elevator, and heads down to the basement to throw away his stories. However, the elevator opens its doors early and Alex gets off on the fourth floor.
Here he finds himself enticed into a magical apartment, which is owned by a witch. The witch tells Alex that his life will be forfeit, unless he can prove useful to her.
Fearful, Alex informs the witch he is good at telling scary stories. This information interests the witch, who agrees to let him live, so long as he presents her with a new story every night.
Unable to leave the apartment, which shifts between time and space, Alex has to come up with new tales of terror to keep the witch entertained. All the while he looks for a way to escape his prison, with the assistance of a fellow captive called Yasmin.
If you’re looking for something to entertain the kids this Halloween, then make sure you add Nightbooks to your ‘watch list’. The movie is imaginative, kooky, and a heck of a lot of fun.
Coming across as a mix of The House with a Clock in its Walls (2018), and all the best Roald Dahl stories you remember from childhood, Nightbooks is a delicious treat of a movie. It is filled with goop, cobwebs, cat poo, and creepy creatures, and if all this doesn’t pique your interest or convince you it’s something your youngsters will love, then nothing will.
The film is essentially a dark fairy-tale about overcoming fears. It is built around two children, trying to move beyond personal issues and insecurities, with a witch popping up from time-to-time to add some menace to the story.
The witch is played by Krysten Ritter, who is excellent as the film’s so-called villain. She has a ball hamming it up as the short-tempered antagonist, taking every opportunity to snap at the children, and bring a degree of macabre to the screen.
At no point does she overstep the mark to become too sinister; she always remains just on the cusp of pantomime. Her performance is playful, yet wicked, and a true highlight.
However, it should be stated that while Ritter is never truly horrifying, and shouldn’t scare anyone, there is a fair bit of darkness in the movie. Towards the end of the picture the film introduces some fairly heavy content, which may prove to be a little too scary for very young audiences.
Netflix have rated Nightbooks a PG, but personally I feel that some of the film’s material really pushes the boundaries of the rating. If you have very young children in your household, then you should definitely check the movie out first, before introducing it to them.
But once you’ve checked out the film (specifically the last 25 minutes), then I’m sure you will find it as thoroughly enjoyable as I did. This is a picture that wants to have fun with its audience, while delivering something spine-chilling, and it knows just how to pull it off, by placing a huge focus on its cast.
As mentioned above, Ritter is great, but so too are Winslow Fegley and Lidya Jewett, who play the two leads, Alex and Yasmin, respectively. These guys have to carry the majority of the movie, and they never faulter.
Had lesser actors been cast in these roles, the movie would have struggled. These guys handle the material well, and it allows the movie to tick along quite nicely, with Ritter dipping in and out to add some support.
As for the rest of the movie, Nightbooks benefits from excellent production design, some great ideas, and strong sound and lighting. There are nods to horror past, including references to The Lost Boys (1987), as well as links to the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.
All-in-all there is plenty going on here to keep up the entertainment factor. My only criticism is that given a little more money the film maybe could have pushed itself further, but regardless of this, Nightbooks is good stuff.
Last year, Netflix served up the woeful Hubie Halloween as the streaming service’s original seasonal ‘treat’. That movie was far more trick than treat, and left a bad taste in the mouth.
This year’s offering of Nightbooks is the exact opposite of Hubie Halloween and serves up something far more palatable. It combines all the ingredients that make for a good children’s horror story, and it is one that adults can enjoy too.
Heed my warning about checking it out before introducing it to the kids, but so long as you think they will be fine with the content, then get this one lined up for the spooky season!