Halloween is approaching. It might not feel like this is the case with it only being mid September but if my twelve year old daughter is anyone to trust then it is apparently most certainly the time to start planning for this particular holiday. To be honest I think I mostly indulge her on this because it stops her constantly telling how many days it is until Christmas.
Anyway, it seems she not the only one getting ready for 31st October because this film, on Netflix now, is destined to be essential family viewing for when the youngsters have come in from trick and treating, not only this year but probably for several years to come.
A decent kids horror film is a hard thing to find. The balance between too scary and too tame is actually quite hard to achieve but like ParaNorman, The Spiderwick Chronicles and Coraline, Nightbooks has got it right.
That last comparison is particularly good because with its creepy domestic location, the neon lit darkness and the witchy mother figure (she’s more of a spooky aunt here), this feels a lot like a live action version of Henry Selick and Neil Gaimon’s exemplary stop motion masterpiece. It’s not as good as Coraline but it will definitely appeal to fans of that film.
Like Coraline the design is amazing, not only of the sets but also of its demonic antagonist. For anyone who watched Jessica Jones and thought that Kristen Ritter’s sardonic impatience and dark sensibilities could be poured effectively into the stuff of children’s nightmares, then they’ve got their wish. Ritter’s delicious performance dominates this film, as she stalks around and intimidates kidnapped juniors while wearing the most amazing outfits this side of Cruella. She’s not as strong as Anne Hathaway in The Witches and what a shame it is that that performance wasn’t in something like this film.
Ritter does carry the movie though and Winslow Fegley and Lidya Jewett are compelling leads as the two kids looking to escape the magic apartment before Ritter’s sartorially magnificent monster gets impatient or bored and kills them.
In the early moments the film is not that frightening but it slowly escalates to an effectively unsettling finish and by the end you’ll be terrified, or at least gripped, depending on your tolerance and quite probably your age. This tempered build to the final confrontation is in its favour as I think this will make it more palatable for younger viewers, possibly even down to the age of seven or eight.
There is a twist that I have to say I worked out early on. At first I was excited by where it looked like it was going but when it got there I was thinking ‘pah, I totally saw that coming’. I’m an adult though and this film wasn’t made for me. Make no mistake that this is a kids’ movie but it’s a good one and worth saving for the right evening.
The Ripley Factor:
The idea of the fairytale witch with the long chin and disfigured nose is not one that it is easy to reconcile with modern feminist views. While this film heavily references the classic storybook figure from tales like Hansel and Gretal though, in Ritter it does challenge notions of evil being equated with ugliness. It also posits quite strongly that anyone can turn dark if the circumstances push them to it.