Sommerleigh Pollonais, Senior Writer
Plot: Nightbooks follows Alex, a boy obsessed with scary stories who is imprisoned by an evil young witch in her contemporary New York City apartment.
Review: As a kid, my favorite children’s movies were the ones that were dark and twisted. The Witches, The Gate and Monster Squad are just a few of the horror movies that were designed with kids in mind. And even though I’m grown and paying bills now (ugh!) every now and again I like to let my inner child loose and check out what the kids are watching these days. Netflix recently went the Goosebumps route and released Nightbooks, so I decided to give it a look. And I’m pleased to say while flawed, it’s a solid addition to the world of scary movies designed for children.
Alex (Winslow Fegley of Come Play) is a young lad who loves all things horror including writing scary stories, but due to overhearing his parents’ apparent disapproval he decides to run away and burn his books. On his way to do this he ends up getting trapped in a magical apartment owned by a witch named Natacha (Krysten Ritter). She is on the verge of turning poor Alex into her next victim but changes her mind when she discovers his ability to tell scary stories.
Trapped in this living nightmare, Alex hopes to find a way out and with the help of another kid named Yasmin, who was also captured by the witch. And they both discover the power of storytelling and how it could be used to free themselves from the wicked witch.
Admittedly Nightbooks is not tailored for adults but then again, there are moments where the tone of the movie gets a bit muddled and you have to wonder which demographic they were truly aiming at. Most kids movies such as these have an adventure-type motif within it and includes a group of kids who band together to stop evil, but with this film only focusing on three characters it manages to explore the psyche of these three people in a way these types of films tend to skip over.
Krysten Ritter (Breaking Bad, Jessica Jones) is perfect in the role. Hey physical appearance (the lady is tall!) as well as her unpredictable style made for a witch that would terrify any child as you never quite knew when she would “flip out” and attack you. She feels like an amalgamation of some of the best villainess we’ve seen on screen, such as Cruella (it’s all about the fashion these days) Maleficent and head witch Miss Ernst, best portrayed by Angelic Huston in the original The Witches (sorry Anne Hathaway).
Young Winslow Fegely as Alex was a delight. He’s one of those children who seem years older than his actual age and Lidya Jewett (Good Girls, Hidden Figures) as Yasmin perfectly balances a character that was putting on a brave face but is ultimately vulnerable and just as scared as any child would be in such a situation.
Natacha’s origins may be obvious to adult viewers, but I’m sure younger audiences will enjoy the twist. And surprisingly the character with the best arc is not a human one at all but instead a cat named Lenore whose journey from annoying magical pet to genuine friend to the kids is one of the best aspects of the story.
Nightbooks borrows a bit from 1001 Arabian Nights and at times it does feel a bit drawn out as we wait to see how the kids will eventually escape from Natacha’s evil clutches. I also wished we had a bit more “magical” moments especially considering the story’s is occurring in a magical apartment that travels the world. That said, it’s not a bad movie overall, just one that suffers from a tone that meanders back and forth between being extremely dark and light hearted.
Maybe if was aimed more towards slightly older audiences it would’ve made a bit more of an impact, but I still think kids will enjoy it (especially the ones who get a kick out of Grimms’ fairy tales) and adults won’t find it a chore to watch. Not as memorable as The Goonies but not as boring as The Witches remake, there’s just enough here to make Nightbooks an enjoyable watch for the whole family.
Sommer’s Score: 6 out of 10
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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