REVIEW: ‘Nightbooks’ Captures the Wonder of Children’s Horror

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Nightbooks - But Why Tho

When we think about horror, we tend to think about the R-rated gorefests, the ephemeral A24 darlings, or even the jump scare-filled PG-13 stylings that James Wan has inspired throughout the 2000s. And none of those are really kid-friendly. That said, children’s horror (and all-ages horror at that) are vital to helping children process the world around them. They get scared as adults do, they see death as adults do, and like adults, the genre can be a way for them to communicate their fears. That’s the beauty of Netflix’s newest original horror film Nightbooks. 

Directed by David Yarovesky, Nightbooks is written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis, based on the book of the same name by  J.A. White. As a film, it embraces the connections children have to horror by focussing on Alex (Winslow Fegley), a boy obsessed with scary stories. When Alex is seemingly ostracized for his love of horror, he rips down his posters, throws away his Fangoria magazines, and takes his book of scary stories (the eponymous “Nightbooks”) down to his apartment’s basement to burn it. But instead of discarding his stories, he finds himself lured into an apartment room with Lost Boys and a piece of pumpkin pie. 

This apartment isn’t what it seems. Instead, Alex finds himself trapped by an evil witch named Natacha (Krysten Ritter). Then, a collector of children, she only keeps those who can be useful to her, and for Alex, that means telling the witch a scary story every night to stay alive.

Embodying the trope established in Arabian Nights, This little Shahrazad is put to the test and finds himself pulled back into the stories he loves so much but had promised he would leave behind. With title cards in place, the stories take on the look of stage plays with Alex’s voice narrating. But this isn’t an anthology. Instead, it’s a story about a storyteller and how he uses horror to channel his creativity.

While the witch is scary, she’s important to helping Alex embrace who he is. When he explains, “I just want to be like everyone else,” when asked about why he runs away from his love of scary stories, it hits. This will certainly help children embrace their interest in scary stories, but it’s also a great watch for adult horror fans. We’ve all had a little bit of Alex in us. A fear of exclaiming our love for dark things in public spaces and while we’ve worked through it, Nightbooks allows us to look back. 

Apart from showcasing Alex’s storytelling, we also get the chance to meet Yasmin (Lidya Jewett). Another one of Natacha’s prisoners, she’s become jaded and convinced that escape is useless. But as she begins her friendship with Alex, the two begin to learn things about themselves and their resiliency. 

Additionally, Nightbooks is a great look at blending practical and digital effects work. There is a wonder introduced with the scale of the apartment, magic in the library, and how the walls shift and change. There is a macabre whimsy to Natacha’s trinkets. All of the set design and costuming stand out as fantastic representations of a dark fairy tale.

While there are some pacing issues, Nightbooks is a stellar and whimsical doorway to the power of horror. It’s a stellar film with a cast that rocks it, and Ritter’s performance as Natacha is one for the on-screen witch record books. If you love horror, have kids who love horror, or just want something great to put on, Nightbooks is for you.

Nightbooks is available now exclusively on Netflix.

Nightbooks
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

While there are some pacing issues, Nightbooks is a stellar and whimsical doorway to the power of horror. It’s a stellar film with a cast that rocks it, and Ritter’s performance as Natacha is one for the on-screen witch record books. If you love horror, have kids who love horror, or just want something great to put on, Nightbooks is for you.