I guess we’re taking another crack at the Nancy Drew series.
So a little history lesson for those of you not in the know. Nancy Drew is a character from an older series of novels that started in the early 1930s. Though I’ve personally never read them, I remember them from my own childhood. They were popular enough to have been written for nearly thirty years, then they were condensed and revised for twenty years without new books being written (book politics, basically). It wasn’t until 1980 where new books were written, both continuing the original adventures and aged up Nancy Drew, spin-offs, until everything was cancelled in 1997. However, in 2003, a new set of books were made, making her more modern with the use of cell phones, hybrid cars, the works, and seemed to get more praise for being a more realistic character, rather than the paragon of perfection she seemed to be in the original novels, but had its fair share of criticism too. Around 2005 is when graphic novels started coming out with artwork akin to a manga. The new books were, once again, cancelled around 2011. But then another reemergence of the Nancy Drew books started coming out in 2013 and have been going ever since (as of 2019).
But that’s the history of the books. Have there been any movies made? As a matter of fact, the Nancy Drew character has been adapted several times, both on the big and small screen. Between 1938 and ’39, four short films were made and played before the feature film. Kinda like what Pixar and Disney do with their movies today. However, Nancy Drew wouldn’t see another attempt at a live-action portrayal until 1995, which was a short-lived TV show that lasted 13 episodes. In 2002, there was a second attempt where a TV movie was made with the intention of launching a TV show that never saw the light of day. Fun fact for you PSYCH fans out there, Nancy Drew was played by Maggie Lawson, who plays Detective Juliet “Jules” O’Hara on the show. That may not mean much to me, as I never watched PSYCH, but I’m aware of its popularity, so maybe this will be more interesting to you all. Then in 2007, Nancy Drew finally got her big screen debut, NANCY DREW, starring Emma Roberts as the titular character. It received mixed reviews and barely made back its money, so obviously, a sequel was never made.
Twelve years later, and now Beverly Marsh changed her name and opted to solve mysteries in order to cope with being attacked by a psychotic child-eating killer clown.
The story looks like it’s about Nancy Drew stumbling on a mystery that seems more like an urban legend than history, but the deeper she investigates, the more real it seems to be, involving a pair of brothers from decades ago and conflict between them surrounding a woman. The trailer isn’t completely clear.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Sophia Lillis (IT , and upcoming films IT: CHAPTER 2  and GRETEL AND HANSEL ), Sam Trammell (ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM , TRUE BLOOD [2008 – 2014], and upcoming films BREAKTHROUGH  and IT’S TIME ), Zoe Renee (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of), Andrea Anders (INSTANT FAMILY ), and Jesse C. Boyd (THE CHOICE ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have Katt Shea, known for THE RAGE: CARRIE 2 (1999). Co-writing the screenplay are Nina Fiore and John Herrera, both known for 1 episode of THE VAMPIRE DIARIES (2009 – 2017) and 1 episode of ALPHAS (2011 – 2012). One of the producers is Ellen DeGeneres, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. Composing the score is Sherri Chung, known for 2 episodes of THE FLASH (2014 – ongoing) and 1 episode of LEGENDS OF TOMORROW (2016 – ongoing). The cinematographer is Edd Lukas, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of, and the upcoming HELL GIRL (2019). Finally, the editor is Richard Nord, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of, and the upcoming THE LAST FULL MEASURE (2019).
Overall, I guess this looks innocent enough and certainly looks like it could be entertaining, but… eh, I’m calling it, I’m not the target demographic. We’ll see.
This is my honest opinion of: NANCY DREW AND THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE
Nancy Drew (Sophia Lillis) is a sixteen-year-old snarky troublemaker who just recently moved to River Heights with her father Carson (Sam Trammell) after the tragic passing of her mother. After standing up to a bully that harassed her friend Bess (Mackenzie Graham), causing thousands of dollars worth of a local gym’s showers, she is sentenced to community service. On her first day, she overhears Flora (Linda Lavin), the great-aunt of Nancy’s mean-girl rival Helen Corning (Laura Wiggins), asking the police to investigate her house, Twin Elms, for hauntings that she believes she’s experiencing. When they fail to help, Nancy offers to help instead. Turns out, the hauntings in the house are real, things moving on their own, flickering lights, all the hallmarks of a haunted house, and she, Flora, and Helen are attacked by an assailant in a hideous plastic pig mask. Surviving the night and the intruder long gone, Nancy decides to investigate the matter further, not believing the validity of the haunting, despite her excitement for this new mystery.
You know what? I kinda dug this movie. I mean, it’s no great mystery thriller, but for a movie aimed at kids and young teens, this had more going for it than I thought.
Let’s start easy with the titular character, Nancy Drew. Specifically, Lillis. This girl is what sells this movie. She has oodles of charm and is so likable. Great comedic timing and sells the drama pretty well, this girl is quickly turning into a talent that should be looked out for. As a character, Nancy is a lot of fun. I can’t pretend to know if Lillis is an actual skateboarder, but if that wasn’t a stunt double, then Lillis’ athleticism may be a nice gateway into an action role in the future. If not… well, then I hope that double gets plenty of work in the future. In any case, for all intents and purposes, Nancy isn’t an especially new character, but because Lillis is so good in the role, Nancy feels fresh. She’s definitely a trouble-maker and proud of it, but she’s stands up for her friends and comes up with some pretty sweet and elaborate revenge plots to get even with bullies that humiliate her friends. Anything where someone stands up to a bully and gives them a taste of their own medicine is alright in my book. She’s sarcastic, playfully honest, but never mean-spirited. She’s reckless, impulsive, and even a little manipulative for the right reasons. She’s a very watchable protagonist.
This probably only barely counts as a spoiler, but for the sake of covering bases, I’ll just treat it like such. When I was watching the movie and all the supernatural stuff was happening, my first instinct was that this movie was going to go the supernatural route of storytelling. Everything that was happening did rather seem a little outlandish. If it wasn’t, I was challenging this movie to explain it in a logical way without actually believing it could be done. Well, to my surprise, that’s exactly what happened. The hauntings at the house weren’t real. The face in the pig mask was a shadow, same with the shadow cloud that gave the pig man the illusion of hovering. It was all a gas that gave Nancy hallucinogenic visions. The drawers coming out to attack her was the work of handles coming out at her, operated by a very real person. Basically, I really had fun with the explanations as to how these supernatural things were happening.
But, for all the praises, this movie isn’t perfect. Time to run through my few issues.
I really have to ask the legalities of skipping out on community service, whether it’s court-mandated or kept within the police precinct. Especially for someone with a history of causing problems and property damage. It just doesn’t seem right to me. And what exactly was the point in the background of the hauntings at Twin Elms? I mean, for real, this movie could have gotten away with a standard haunted house without going into its backstory. It’s Nancy Drew. I don’t think anyone would really care. I also find it hilarious that as Nancy and Helen discover the Hidden Staircase behind Aunt Flora’s bookshelf, they’re the ones who go investigate, while Flora happily stays behind in safety. Yes, let the underage teenage girls do the dangerous work, one of them being her great-niece. That sounds like a responsible guardian. And I might also argue that George is a bit mean-spirited. Look, as someone who’s been bullied in school, I know more than anyone that bullies deserve every rotten thing that happens to them and forgiveness is near impossible. However, give Helen some credit, she’s gone out of her way to get Nancy to where she needs to go and is arguably the most helpful of the supporting characters. Not that George and Bess don’t do their fair share, they absolutely do, but there’s something about discrediting one’s contributions that seems… too mean. I would understand not liking it, I would even understand a cold shoulder, but a verbal attack just seems highly ungrateful.
Overall, I kinda liked it. I won’t call it a great movie, but for its intended demographic it has more than a few commendable surprises. A surprisingly fun, adorable, and empowering performance by Lillis and a fun mystery for kids, it’s actually worth the watch. I may not say that it’s worth seeing in theaters, but I do highly recommend it as a rental. Worth seeing at some point and I would actually be interested in seeing more with Nancy Drew. For as long running as the novels have been, they deserve to see the big and or small screen.
My honest rating for NANCY DREW AND THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE: 4/5
This week’s reviews:
- THE AFTERMATH
- THE MUSTANG
- CAPTIVE STATE
- FIVE FEET APART
- WONDER PARK
- THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT
- NO MANCHES FRIDA 2: PARAÍSO DESTRUIDO
- PLAIRE, AIMER ET COURIR VITE / SORRY ANGEL
- FAITH, HOPE & LOVE
Next week’s reviews: