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‘Nightbooks’: A Halloween horror story for the family

Netflix’s countdown to Halloween starts off with a family affair in the form of David Yarovesky’s (Brightburn) new film ‘Nightbooks’ which has just arrived on the streaming platform. There was once a time when the horror and family genres of films were kept wide apart, but with the rise in popularity in horror literature for young adults such as Goosebumps, it soon became a blend that Hollywood realised was an untapped venture.

By David Griffiths

Saturday 9 October 2021, 11:00AM

Lidya Jewett and Winslow Fegley in Nightbooks (2021). Image: IMDB

Lidya Jewett and Winslow Fegley in Nightbooks (2021). Image: IMDB

In Nightbooks we are introduced to Alex (Winslow Fegley – Come Play) a budding young writer who after a fight with his parents announces he will never ever write another scary story. As he runs away from them he finds drawn into a mysterious apartment, but once he enters the door disappears and he finds himself trapped.

When he awakens he finds himself being kept prisoner by a witch named Natacha (Krysten Ritter – Jessica Jones) who quickly announces that unless he makes himself useful to her then she will not hesitate to kill him. Alex then tells her that he can write scary tales and she decides that will be his daily chore. As Alex writes he soon realises that Natacha also has another prisoner, a young girl named Yasmin (Lidya Jewett – Good Girls) who cooks and cleans for Natacha.

While Yasmin and Alex originally don’t get along they soon realise that the only way that they are ever going to make out of the enchanted apartment is if they can find a way to break the spells that Natacha uses to keep them prisoner.

Upon viewing Nightbooks you quickly realise why Yarovesky is one of the most exciting young filmmakers in Hollywood at the moment. His last feature film, Brightburn, was a dark look at what would have happened if a young Clarke Kent had turned to the dark-side instead of becoming Superman. Given that the film was written and filmed without any support of DC you can understand why Yarovesky was considered brave in filmmaking ranks. Now with Nightbooks Yarovesky delivers a dark take on the classic Hansel + Gretel tale. 

While a lot of the creativity behind what this film does with the old time fable falls to the author of the original novel J.A. White and screenwriters Mikki Daughtry (Five Feet Apart) and Tobias Iaconis (The Curse of La Llorona), there is little doubt that Yarovesky has well and truly put his stamp on this film, and it is very easy to see that his work here is reminiscent to what has made Guillermo del Toro one of the most acclaimed directors in cinematic history.

Parents should be aware of the fact that while Hollywood would like Nightbooks to slot in nicely beside Goosebumps it does lack the comedy element that made Goosebumps that little bit lighter and at times the lead characters do find themselves genuinely at risk of being killed by a witch that certainly does not have a ‘lighter’ side. While the film may be targeted at a slightly younger audience it is perhaps more acceptable for children that are old enough to watch other films such as Harry Potter without becoming afraid.

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What film lovers of all ages will love about Nightbooks though are the performances of the leads. Krysten Ritter is truly scary as the threatening Natacha and she works amazingly well with the young cast around her. Young Winslow Fegley backs up his recent appearance in horror film Come Play with yet another amazing performance that clearly shows why is one of the most talented young actors going around. His scenes with Lidya Jewett as they fight for their survival are among some of the best we have seen from young performers over the past few years.

Nightbooks is truly a film for the whole family and the perfect watch for Halloween. Despite being aimed at a younger audience this is not the kind of film that adults are going to grow bored with. Yarovesky has delivered a true dark fantasy that also pays tribute to classic films like The Lost Boys in such a way that even true horror fans are going to find it hard not develop a soft spot for it.

Nightbooks is currently available on Netflix in Phuket.

3/5 Stars

David Griffiths has been working as a film and music reviewer for over 20 years. That time has seen him work in radio, television and in print. You can follow him at www.facebook.com/subcultureentertainmentaus

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