Nightbooks is a horror movie for kids – not young kids, mind you, but older, braver ones not prone to nightmares.
Young Alex (Winslow Fegley) is a prolific writer of scary stories, only some recent bullying has him vowing to give it up. On Halloween night he wanders into a strange apartment which turns out to be a witch’s lair, and a prison for the children she holds captured within. Yasmin (Lidya Jewett) is also being held prisoner there, by a witch named Natacha (Krysten Ritter), who collects kids. In order to survive, Natacha forces Alex to read her a different scary story every night, a new one that he writes. Natacha is very fussy about her stories; she actually knows ghosts and vampires and the demons, and the details have to be right. An even stricter rule: no happy endings. Alex will spend the rest of his life trying to write stories that please Natacha, and being threatened with death (or worse!) when he doesn’t!
The movie felt a little familiar to me, but I could definitely see kids, who have fewer references than I do, enjoy this as a gateway into horror. Horror-lite. Magic potions, toothy creatures, frozen children, a hairless cat, sleeping witches, poison candy: this movie has pretty much everything a kid’s nightmares are made of. But director David Yarovesky isn’t trying to scare the stuffing out of your kids, just sort of creep them out a bit, things looming in the shadows, light playing tricks on you, that sort of thing, horror’s oldest tricks, still classics, all of them.
Nightbooks won’t be any adult’s favourite film but it’ll likely be a popular benchmark for kids, possibly a hit among the sleepover set. Fegley and Jewett are sweet kids and perfectly able to carry this film upon small, slimy shoulders. Ritter lends a little something new to the wicked witch trope, with fabulous costumes and beautiful, unwitchy hair. Most of all it’s nice to see aspiring writers and young creative minds being lauded. What a wonderful thing.