IANS Review: ‘Nightbooks’: An insipid fantasy-horror tale (IANS Rating: **1/2)

Film: Nightbooks (Streaming on Netflix); Duration: 116 minutes. Director: David Yarovesky. Cast: Winslow Fegley, Lidya Jewett, Krysten Ritter, Mathieu Bourassa and Jess Brown. IANS Rating: **1/2

Conceptually, the story of Nightbooks is akin to ‘The Arabian Nights’, where, instead of the Vazir’s daughter narrating a story every night to King Shahryar, we have a child who loves writing horror stories and narrating them to the witch who captured him, in order to stay alive.

This fantasy-horror tale is a survival story based on J.A. White’s novel of the same name. It revolves around two children, Alex and Yasmin, whose only source of survival in a spine-chilling, creepy apartment is Natacha (Krysten Ritter), a witch who captures Alex to hear a new story every night from him.

The film begins with a dejected Alex walking out of his Brooklyn apartment, only to find himself trapped in a majestic- looking apartment. We learn what had upset Alex upset only during the resolution of the narrative.

At the very outset, Natacha makes it clear to Alex that she intends to dispose of him unless he is of some use to her. Alex convinces her that he can write scary stories. So, it is decided that Alex lives on one condition that he must tell Natacha a new scary story each night.

During his stay in the apartment, Alex stumbles upon Yasmin, a slightly older girl with a penchant for science, especially botany, who tends to Natacha’s plants and does other chores in the apartment. To make their existence in the apartment a bit complex and scary is a furless, magical cat called Lenore.

Alex learns that “The apartment lures kids from all over the world and makes them do whatever the witch wants them to do.” Seeing the apartment filled with books such as ‘The Empty Classroom and Other Creepy Stories’, ‘Nightdreams and Daymares’ and ‘Whispered Tales’, he is convinced that Natacha, does like stories.

Having been consumed into this supernatural trap, how Alex, along with Yasmin, scheme their way out of it, forms the crux of the narrative.

Winslow Fegley as Alex is brilliant. With his large-framed eyewear, and soft demeanour, he brilliantly projects himself as an author who at times suffers from a writer’s block. He is ably supported by Lidya Jewett, who essays Yasmin with sincerity.

Krysten Ritter, in an enviable, outlandish costume and loud make-up, is bland and lifeless as the wicked witch Natacha. She has a flat expression whether she is bored or vengeful.

Visually, the film is deeply atmospheric and intricately mounted. All credit should be given to the production designer, Anastasia Masaro, who created the stately apartment with varied and borderless array of secret rooms that act as both a spooky prison for Alex and Yasmin, and a space for limitless possibilities.

Overall, the plot of this film with ample horror tropes thrown in, is far from thrilling or gripping.