“Every good story hints at truth”
You need to watch the most underrated gothic thriller on Netflix ASAP
This 2021 Sam Raimi-produced Netflix original is an ode to horror storytelling with a devious twist ending.
Every child goes through a scary story phase. Whether they’re tales told around a campfire, Grimm’s classic fairy tales, or the morbidly illustrated Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books, realizing the power stories have to send chills down spines is like unlocking a whole new world.
Unfortunately, horror movies rarely tap into this youthful joy for creepy tales. The genre often assumes that it takes a teenage interest in gore and titillation to dive in, but in 2021, Netflix quietly released the perfect spooky movie for fans of all ages.
Netflix original Nightbooks is based on a J. A. White children’s book, but it doesn’t limit the scares. Maybe it’s because horror legend Sam Raimi signed on to produce, but this PG film keeps the stakes as high as any R-rated movie. It might be the best hidden gem on the platform.
The movie follows Alex (Winslow Fegley), a young boy living with his parents in Brooklyn. He’s alienated at school because of his weird habit of writing scary stories in countless notebooks he calls his nightbooks.
One night, a trip in the elevator of his apartment building is interrupted by a stop at an impossible floor. Alex explores the new destination, finds himself tempted by a slice of pumpkin pie, and is promptly captured by a terrifying witch named Natacha (Krysten Ritter).
Natacha plans on murdering Alex unless he can prove himself useful. In a panic, he mentions that he likes to write scary stories, which seems to sate her. Joined by Yasmin (Lidia Jewett), a child kept by Natacha as a cook, Alex stays with the witch and her cat Lenore, which tends to pull disappearing acts.
Alex soon hatches an escape plot, researching the witch’s magic while being guided by mysterious notes he finds in Natacha’s books. When the two captives make a run for it, they learn that not everything is as it seems, and that Natacha may not be the real villain at all.
Nightbooks isn’t afraid of scaring its audience. Whether it’s a spider almost poking Yasmin’s eye out or the reveal that Natacha may be the witch from the fabled story of Hansel and Gretel, it understands that children don’t need to be talked down to.
For older fans, Nightbooks is nostalgic but also innovative. When Alex tells his stories they’re recreated in little vignettes, much like Mike Flanagan’s recent series The Midnight Club. But instead of seeing the stories acted out, they’re told with old-school practical effects and tableaus that bring to mind silent films of a century ago.
The best part of the film is the ending, which is far scarier and more surprising than you would expect, and leaves the characters fleeing a greater threat. If something a witch is afraid of doesn’t scare you, what will? Whether you’re looking for an appropriate but exciting thriller for a child in their scary story phase, or looking to relive your own, this is the perfect watch.
Nightbooks is now streaming on Netflix.