In fact, one of Nightbooks main themes is scary stories, stories that a young boy is forced to create and read to the witch who has imprisoned him. Sounds like a kid’s film, right? Nightbooks is based on the book by J.A. White, and while it is technically a book for older children, it’s got enough creepy-crawly content to entertain adults as well.
The story gets going right away, as we see a boy named Alex angrily throwing around his horror paraphernalia. Clearly, he is a fan of the genre. We can see monster figures and a Nightmare on Elm Street poster. He snatches up some notebooks, and runs out of his family’s apartment, apparently intent on destroying the books.
Unfortunately for Alex, the elevator stops on a floor he has never seen before, and he is lured into a strange apartment by the sound of The Lost Boys playing on a television and a slice of pumpkin pie on a plate.
Nightbooks feels like a mashup of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Coraline and Something Wicked This Way Comes, with a healthy dash of Hansel and Gretel thrown into the mix.
As it turns out, Alex has been captured by a witch named Natacha, and he is only saved when she sees his “Nightbooks,” the notebooks he had in his backpack. It seems that Alex likes to write scary stories, and, hey, Natacha LIKES scary stories! So, maybe they can work out a trade: Alex can read Natacha a scary story every night, and in return, she won’t kill him…but it only works if she likes the stories.
The heat is on for poor Alex, especially since Natacha is such a harsh critic. She is gone during the day, so Alex is tasked with writing the stories (when he isn’t exploring around the massive library) and trying to make friends with a girl named Yazmin, who the witch also kidnaped. In truth, Alex has writer’s block and continues to read Natacha stories from his Nightbooks.
Yazmin is curt with Alex, but it seems like maybe she had made friends with other kids along the way, kids who are now gone, leaving only their clothes behind. Both of them are spied on by a wicked-looking skinless cat named Lenore, and given that the apartment does not have any visible doors, Alex and Yazmin are truly trapped.
Nightbooks is captivating, beautifully filmed, thrilling and, yes, scary. As Alex and Yazmin, Winslow Fegley and Lidya Jewett are believable and natural actors, but Krysten Ritter sells the scares in this film. Her characterization of Natacha is intense and frightening.
As far as the setting goes, you can’t go wrong with a terrifying, magical apartment that can move around from place to place, with “the worst elevator ever.” And that library! It looks like every bookworm’s dream, even though it lies within a nightmare.
Nightbooks is gorgeously creepy, with the warm, beating heart of friendship at its core. This film will be adored by kids who like their stories on the scary side…but this adult loved it as well.