I was feeling under the weather recently and wanted to watch a horror film but I wasn’t in the mood for anything that was going to bum me out or destroy my last shred of will to live (you know how it goes). Luckily I found the PG-13 dark fantasy/gateway horror flick NIGHTBOOKS hanging out on Netflix because it completely shifted my mood and delivered everything I could possibly ask for, especially during spooky season. It’s surprisingly dark and intense at times (I’m pretty sure it references SUSPIRIA) but there’s great humor too and the characters are super relatable and the message it delivers is something that’s useful no matter what your age. Based on a children’s book by J. A. White, it somehow successfully transported me back to the eighties and I was swearing I was watching a lost Joe Dante flick for much of the runtime.
Winslow Fegley stars as Alex, a kid obsessed with horror movies (posters for THE THING, THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, CANDYMAN and others align his bedroom wall) and writing scary stories. Feeling alienated by others for his interests, he swears to forever reject his passions and destroy all of his writings in his Brooklyn apartment building’s furnace. Before he can achieve his goal though, he is enticed into a neighboring apartment where he spies a TV playing THE LOST BOYS and a tempting slice of pumpkin pie. Suddenly he is trapped in a newfangled telling of Hansel and Gretel with a wonderfully sinister witch named Natacha (Krysten Ritter who is aces and born for the part), her prisoner Yasmin (Lidya Jewett) and a trouble-making mystical cat (who I immediately fell in love with) named Lenore. To stay alive, Alex must rekindle his love of storytelling to entertain Natacha, and frankly, she’s a bit on the detail-oriented, critical side.
Our heroes may be trapped but their prison is a fantastic place to spend time for viewers. Natacha has an endlessly spiraling library, a neon garden full of truly threatening spider creatures and a menagerie of Hummel-like figures of her past victims. I don’t wish to spoil anything but what’s going on in her backyard is even more eye-popping, psychedelic and candy-coated Wonka glorious.
Eventually, strong bonds are formed, the mischievous cat reveals an appreciative heart and even Natasha inspires a tad of sympathy before her comeuppance. Most importantly, Alex learns that what makes him different is exactly what makes him special and I’m all for everybody getting down with that way of thinking. Do yourself the sweet favor of watching NIGHTBOOKS this Halloween season. It really is all any horror fan could wish for.