"Nightbooks" review: a fairytale horror fit for children

In the children’s horror film “Nightbooks”, a preteen is held hostage by a malicious witch. Alex (Winslow Fegley) is a brilliant kid wh...


In the children’s horror film “Nightbooks”, a preteen is held hostage by a malicious witch. Alex (Winslow Fegley) is a brilliant kid whose passion lies in writing scary stories. At the beginning of the film (on Netflix), Alex gives up on this hobby, fearing it could make him a freak show. En route to burn his notebooks, however, he is lured into the enchanted apartment of Natacha (Krysten Ritter), who threatens to kill Alex unless he tells her a new story every night.

For Alex, Natacha’s house is a dark and spooky prison, but it’s also a Victorian wonderland. Venture through the right door and you might find an extensive library, a magical garden, or a forest of unicorns. Alex befriends Yasmin (Lidya Jewett), another child held captive in space, and together the couple Hansel and Gretel prepare their escape.

Several moments in “Nightbooks”, directed by David Yarovesky and based on a book by JA White, are truly scary. During some sequences, especially the ones that center a chilling threat called Shredder, I was tempted to cover my eyes. Director David Yarovesky has a knack for light towers – shadows, neon night vision, and silhouetted movement – and the film is at its most delightfully chilling when it favors visual flair over fears of jumping.

In its balance of child-centric themes and unsettling imagery, “Nightbooks” follows a paved path of horror stars like “Coraline” and the early works of Tim Burton. Yarovesky’s fairy-tale fantasy ultimately doesn’t live up to the gloomy ingenuity of these benchmarks, but his devotion to scares makes it memorable.

Night books
Unclassified. Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes. Watch on Netflix.

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