Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (Movie Review)

With times constantly changing, it is always a challenge to adapt an old story into a modern setting. That in mind comes the brand new film Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, set for release in theaters on Friday, March 15th through Warner Bros., Ellen DeGeneres’ A Very Good Production, and Red 56. 

Directed by Katt Shea, who was also responsible for films such as 1992’s Poison Ivy, and 1999’s The Rage: Carrie 2, the story of Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase came from the second novel in the Nancy Drew mystery series following 1930’s The Secret of the Old Clock. Written by author pseudonym Carolyn Keene (Mildred Benson), it was later revised in 1959, and the latter version is what was utilized as the ground plan for this modern adaptation film… with quite a few twists.

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase still. ©Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The film starts off with high school girls Nancy Drew (Sophia Lillis: It 2017, Sharp Objects mini-series) and her two bestie side kicks George Fayne (Zoe Renee: The Quad series, Jinn 2018) and Bess Marvin (Mackenzie Graham: The Purge TV series, Darlin’ 2019) plotting a strange unrealistic prank against a school bully who happens to be the boyfriend of Helen (Laura Slade Wiggins: Shamless series, Rings 2017); the classic blonde and popular “mean girl” of the story whose grandmother owns Twin Elms estate. Without giving away detail, the gist of prank is extremely far-fetched from reality but certainly entertaining.

The remainder of the plot entails Nancy’s father Carson Drew, (Sam Trammell: True Blood series, White Rabbit 2013), a single dad and lawyer who is new to town, defending it against the construction of a train line which would run through the recently deemed haunted Twin Elms estate owned by Helen’s Grandmother Flora (Linda Lavin: Alice series, The Goodwife series). This all seems to be loosely faithful to the 1959 novel, despite obvious modern adaptations such as Instagram and cell phone usage including FaceTime calls between friends.

All this said, the biggest achievement and savior of Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase is in the character portrayals which are well-acted by a strong cast. Nancy’s character, while perhaps very removed from the old 1939 film portrayal of this same novel, is alluring as a Tom boy skateboard riding sleuth with a good heart. She is also always sticking her nose in places it does not belong, ending her up in places such as picking up trash outside the police station doing community service. Nosing her way into Flora and Helen’s life after overhearing a ghost story, Nancy cannot resist an opportunity to spend the night in a “haunted house” to try and solve the mystery in a logical way; much like the characters in a Scooby Doo cartoon. As Flora, Helen, and Nancy experience a “supernatural” evening of exploding lights, strange music, and a floating masked man, among other ghostly antics, Nancy is determined to get to the bottom of it all.

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase still. ©Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The antagonist of this adaptation, Willie Wharton (Jesse C. Boyd: Day 5 2016, Mindhunter 2017) is also convincingly played as his intention was to stop Carson Drew from destroying his mission to build the train line. He threatens Nancy in a harsh way, also straying very far from the old tale since his character was not even a part in the same way there. Furthermore, while the hidden staircase discovery is very typically depicted Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, the explanation behind the ghost sightings or hallucinations are wildly far-fetched; perhaps this because certain subject matter such as bullying and drug usage needed to be only mildly offensive for a teen rating.

Overall, Screenwriters Nina Fiore (Blood Drive 2017, The Handmade’s Tail series) and John Herrera (Eureka series, Alphas series) really take the essence of an old Nancy Drew spooky mystery and successfully rewrite it for a modern age teen detective movie. In fact, all that needed to transpire and adapt from the old story to be on the level that kids today can actually be entertained by and relate with is there. Could it have still been successful if it stuck more to the original novel? On one hand, yes, but generally speaking, minus the almost Sci-Fi twists, it does achieve what it set out to do. 

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase still. ©Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

To really understand the original Nancy Drew series, reading the novel is the first step. It would possibly not be a bad idea to remake some of the other Nancy Drew novels for a modern audience, but it may be difficult to take this stretch of a plot and run into the other stories with it. Time will tell how that all plays out, but life lessons in Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase are what every parent should teach their kids, and it is recommended to go see the cute, adventurous film. That is why Cryptic Rock give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. 

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

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