×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase’

'It' star Sophia Lillis brings a fresh dimension to one of American literature's best-loved detectives in a version that updates Nancy Drew just enough for a new generation.

Director:
Katt Shea
With:
Sophia Lillis, Linda Lavin, Sam Trammell
Release Date:
Mar 15, 2019

Official Site: https://www.warnerbros.com/movies/nancy-drew-and-hidden-staircase

When it comes to name recognition, few American detectives rank as high as Nancy Drew with audiences, owing to the fact that millions devoured the yellow-spined novels, and no small number of celebs (including executive producer Ellen DeGeneres) went on to credit the character with inspiring them at a young age. As a result, it’s no mystery why so many have tried to develop the character into a proper film or TV franchise — including small-screen attempts by CBS, NCB and The CW in the last few years alone.

In the case of Warner Bros., the studio bought the rights to the character for just $6,000 back in 1937, and has opted to dust off and remake “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase” (one of the character’s earliest and most widely read novels, first adapted in 1939) from its own library. And so, Nancy’s back, reborn in the form of super-charismatic, redheaded Sophia Lillis as an assertive, redheaded millennial who embodies the classic character’s best traits — intelligence, independence, and an unerring nose for the truth — while bringing her confidently into the modern world.

That’s more than can be said for Warner’s last attempt, 2007’s square Emma Roberts starrer “Nancy Drew,” in which the character looked like an escapee from a 1940s Catholic girls’ school. Since Nancy’s always been a role model to young girls, her personality can’t get too wild, but there’s no reason to make her boring in the process. With Lillis in the lead, that’s not likely, since the actress — who stole “It” out from under her younger male co-stars — doesn’t look like a dull goody-goody in the slightest, combining tomboy confidence with a laid-back rocker-chick attitude.

At first, “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase” seems to be trying a bit too hard to make her hip, opening with a scene of its namesake skateboarding down the street of fictional small town River Heights. Even without teen musical prodigy Emily Bear singing “More Than Just a Girl” on the soundtrack, it’s obvious that “Poison Ivy” director Katt Shea wants us to know that there’s no underestimating her new-and-improved Nancy Drew — even if most of the characters are constantly doing just that.

Luckily, Nancy has supportive parents and a couple of best friends, Bess (Mackenzie Graham) and George (Zoe Renee), who look on in awe whenever she lays out the logic she uses to puzzle out certain mysteries. But she doesn’t stop there, stepping up to enforce wrongdoing when the situation calls for it. No previous version of Nancy Drew would have reacted to the news that Bess is being picked on at school by breaking into the boys’ locker room and rigging a showerhead to release a chemical that will turn the bully’s skin Smurf blue, recording the whole stunt and streaming it for everyone to see.

That little act of “restorative justice” (as Nancy calls it) lands her a reprimand from Sheriff Marchbanks (Jay DeVon Johnson) — along with some encouraging looks from hunky Deputy Patrick (Andrew Matthew Welch) — and serves as a solid lesson that even noble acts have consequences when she’s ordered to do community service. Nancy soon discovers that picking up trash at the city park is no fun, and so she engineers a more enticing alternative: assisting an eccentric, elderly shut-in (“Alice” star Linda Lavin as Flora) who spray-paints her lawn bright magenta to match the pink flamingos.

Flora lives in a historical mansion, Twin Elms, that she believes is haunted, and while that may sound hokey on paper, what Nancy witnesses — a sparking chandelier, kitchen drawers that open and close on their own, and a faceless figure wearing a satanic pig mask — seems convincing to her too. “And here I thought my cheese was sliding off the cracker!” exclaims Flora. Still, it takes a special kind of brain to explain what’s behind these freaky phenomena, and that’s where Nancy Drew comes in.

Using a mix of intuition and smarts, Nancy locates a secret lever in Flora’s bookcase that swings aside to reveal … you guessed it, a hidden staircase. By this time in the story, audiences will have figured out the motive — Twin Elms sits on a valuable piece of real estate that greedy developers want for the train they’re planning to build through town — but they won’t be able to guess who’s behind this elaborate attempt to scare Flora into selling, or how the culprits pulled it off. The answer is darker and more dangerous than you might expect.

But here’s the cool thing: The film’s consistently clever script, from empowerment-minded “The Handmaid’s Tale” writers Nina Fiore and John Herrera, isn’t nearly as interested in the mystery as it is in Nancy Drew, or in the circle of characters and relationships that surround her. And that’s the smart way to approach such a case, since the movie was plainly intended to be more than a one-off. It’s easy to imagine further installments, so long as they don’t lose Lillis, who’s currently 17. She’s the freshest thing to happen to Nancy Drew in decades, making it clear that casting was the solution that has so often eluded this series in its jump from page to screen.

Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly identified Sophia Lillis’ age. She is 17 years old.

Film Review: 'Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase'

Reviewed online, March 7, 2019. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 89 MIN.

Production: A Warner Bros. Pictures release and presentation of a Very Good, Red 56 production. Producers: Jeff Kleeman, Chip Diggins. Executive producers: Ellen DeGeneres, Wendy S. Williams. Co-producer: Rachel Abarbanell.

Crew: Director: Katt Shea. Screenplay: Nina Fiore, John Herrera. Camera (color, widescreen): Edd Lukas. Editor: Richard Nord. Music: Sherri Chung.

With: Sophia Lillis, Linda Lavin, Sam Trammell

Music By: , Andrea Anders, Sam Trammell, Mackenzie Graham, Zoe Renee, Evan Castelloe, Jay DeVon Johnson, Andrew Matthew Welch, Jesse C. Boyd.

More Film

  • Mediapro Unveils The Mediapro Studio, With

    Spain's Mediapro Unveils New Studio, With 34 Series in Production (EXCLUSIVE)

    The Mediapro Group – the Barcelona-based multinational co-founded by Jaume Roures – is unveiling The Mediapro Studio, with 34 scripted series already in production worldwide. The new production company will be based in Fuencarral, northern Madrid, just a few miles from Netflix’s soon-to-open European production hub. It will be overseen by Javier Méndez as chief [...]

  • Fox Searchlight logo

    Film News Roundup: Fox Searchlight Launches Searchlight Shorts

    In today’s film news roundup, Fox Searchlight starts a shorts channel, Uma Thurman signs with ICM and Miramax signs animation exec Michael Lachance. SEARCHLIGHT SHORTS More Reviews Off Broadway Review: John Guare's 'Nantucket Sleigh Ride' Concert Review: Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets Dishes Up Seminal Pink Floyd Delights Fox Searchlight Pictures’ chairmen Nancy Utley and [...]

  • ImMature - cr: MX Player

    Indian Streamers Ramp up Original Productions

    Ever since global streaming giants Amazon Prime Video and Netflix entered the Indian OTT space in 2016, the conversation around original series has mostly revolved around them, thanks in part to market leader 21st Century Fox’s Hotstar’s circumspect attitude at the time about producing content. Netflix had great success with “Sacred Games,” while Amazon rode [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Hollywood Agents, Writers Guild Make Little Progress in Talks

    Leaders of Hollywood agencies and the Writers Guild of America made little progress in Tuesday meeting to negotiate proposed rule revisions to how agents represent writers. The WGA said after the meeting — the fifth since Feb. 5 — that talks would resume later this week but did not give a specific day. More Reviews [...]

  • Village Rockstars

    Female Filmmakers Are a Growing Voice in India

    The Indian film industry has historically been a male-dominated one, but the winds of change are blowing across the country, albeit slowly. Better-served than the rest of the country is the Mumbai-based Hindi-language industry, where there are several active female filmmakers including Zoya Akhtar (“Gully Boy”), Reema Kagti (“Gold”), Leena Yadav (“Rajma Chawal”), Gauri Shinde [...]

  • Florence Pugh

    Scarlett Johansson's 'Black Widow' Movie Adds Florence Pugh

    “Black Widow’s” web may soon be growing. Sources tell Variety that Florence Pugh is in talks to join Scarlett Johansson’s standalone superhero film. More Reviews Off Broadway Review: John Guare's 'Nantucket Sleigh Ride' Concert Review: Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets Dishes Up Seminal Pink Floyd Delights Pugh has been on the hot list for this [...]

  • Mira Lesmana Sets up Indonesia Remake

    Mira Lesmana Sets Up Indonesian Remake of CJ's 'Sunny'

    Indonesia’s Miles Film and Korea’s CJ Entertainment are to co-produce an Indonesian remake of Korean hit “Sunny.” The film is a female-driven dramedy about a group of adult friends who reunite 20 years after high school. Directed by Kang Hyoung-chul, “Sunny” was one of the highest-grossing movies in Korea when it was released in 2011. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content