The horror genre has evolved past its label of simply being “them scary movies”. Indeed, they range from the deeply cerebral catalogues of A24 to the haunted house fun of James Wan’s twisted mind. Hell, there are even ones that are make you feel less like a scaredy cat and more like a badass. Looking at you “Army of the Dead”. Yes, everyone needs a good scare from time to time, even kids and there are films that genuinely cater to that demographic. We’re not talking about horror films with kids, mind you. We’re talking proper horror flicks that kids can actually watch. Think 2009’s “Coraline” or the “Goosebump” films from R.L. Stine. They’re rare and far between, namely because they’re so damn hard to nail.
The subject matter has to be relatable enough to keep kids engaged. Tamed enough as to not upset the ratings board while also delivering on the scares as well! It’s a difficult rope to walk. It seems the latest effort to walk the line is coming from Netflix’s “Nightbooks”. The film is directed by the man behind the first supehero horror film “Brightburn”. Will director David Yarovesky bring on the terror? Or will he put the kids to sleep before their bedtime? Dim the lights and let’s find out!
Much like any other Grimm fairy tale, “Nightbooks” follows the story of a couple of children being trapped in the clutches of an evil witch. One night, Alex, a bookish amateur horror writer, leaves his apartment floor only to be lured into a whole other world. One full of magic and terror. A sorceress by the name of Natacha has captured the boy and forces him to tell scary stories each night. If he fails to do so at any point, Alex will be subjected to a fate worse than death. He’s not alone though. Alongside another victim named Yasmin, Alex will embark on a daring escape. One that will test his courage and imagination.
“Nightbooks” is well-aware of children fantasy roots and plays right into them, for better or for worse. The first half of the film can feel a little dull at times. Especially during segments dealing with the Alex and Yasmin’s friendship. We wouldn’t so much describe their chemistry as endearing as we would serviceable. There are a few fun horror anthology sub-stories to break up the monotony but it all feels like a prolonged prelude to the main event.
The third act of the film is when things start to get really interesting…and genuinely creepy. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that we’re glad that the horror aspect of the film finally arrives in full force. Well, better than never we suppose. It’s hard not to compare the film’s plot to that of Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline”. A creepy cautionary tale of being careful what you wish that slowly ramps on the scares before having it all come out in one explosive ending.
“Nightbooks” however doesn’t quite earn its horrifying twist near the end. It’s too busy setting up Alex and Yasmin’s escape plan without ever giving us any real threat. Yes, we know the witch threatens them from time to time but we just wish that the film did a better job of generating some stakes.
Let’s talk writing…it’s not great. The writers try to play off Alex’s insecurity as a social outcast against Yasmin’s survivor’s guilt to create some tension between them. Unfortunately, it’s not very well articulated, even for a kid’s film. It often devolves into characters just blurting out their feelings in dumb and clumsy dialogue.
Child actors Winslow Fegeley and Lidyia Jewett as Alex and Yasmin do aid in mitigating the effects of the lackluster writing. Fegeley does a great job in selling us Alex’s hidden pain with his expressive eyes and his adorkable demeanour. In terms of gravitas, Jewett is definitely the better of the two, playing off her character’s damaged past with greater restrain. The both of them are completely overshadowed, though, whenever Krysten Ritter’s Natacha comes on screen. She chews the scenery to a ridiculously campy degree.
Is it a little cheesy? Yes but you just can’t help but take to Ritter. The star of Netflix’s “Jessica Jones” looks like she’s honestly having fun in every scene she’s in. Some people will definitely get a kick out of Natacha’s sassy one-liners and over-the-top monologues. Others may find it grating or obnoxious depending on their taste.
As for the worldbuilding and special effects, they’re all a bit of a mixed bag. The majority of the film is mostly confined within Natacha’s magical apartment which includes a sprawling library and an enchanted garden. Unfortunately, the CGI is painfully noticeable when it comes to creature design. One scene involving demonic insects left us wondering where the film’s SFX budget went. When the film relies on more practical costume design and hand-drawn animated sequences, it excels in selling us the twisted fantasy. Seriously, if you’ve got toddlers in the room, you best get out when that candy-coated witch is on the loose. That shit is nightmare fuel for days!
Netflix’s “Nightbooks” is an early Halloween treat for younger viewers looking to creep themselves out before bed. Parents looking to have a spooky watch party with the family will have a decent time as well. Die-hard horror fans may find the juvenile premise and fantasy elements less than satisfying though, up until its stronger third act at least. If you came to watch Krysten Ritter go nuts on screen as an evil witch, then you’re in the right place! It’s all so delightfully cringe-inducing.
So what do you think of Netflix’s “Nigthbooks”? Did you love it? Did you hate it? Be sure to leave us a reaction down below!
If you horrorheads are still looking for more content, we recommend checking our review on James Wan’s “Malignant”.
Netflix's "Nightbooks" Review
Netflix's "Nightbooks" is an early Halloween treat for younger viewers looking to creep themselves out before bed. Parents looking to have a spooky watch party with the family will have a decent time as well. Die-hard horror fans may find the juvenile premise and fantasy elements less than satisfying though, up until its stronger third act at least.
- Netflix's "Nightbooks" Review