David Yarovesky, known for Brightburn and The Hive, keeps the horror coming with his new family-friendly fantasy horror film Nightbooks, based on the beloved J.A. White book series.
Nightbooks follows Alex (Winslow Fegley), a boy obsessed with scary stories, who is imprisoned by an evil young witch (Krysten Ritter) in her contemporary New York City apartment. Alex eventually learns he must tell a new scary story every night in order to stay alive.
Check out my interview with David!
**Possible spoilers ahead**
Nightbooks just dropped, that’s so exciting!
David: It is exciting, and it’s surreal, and it’s strange. These movies are, it’s almost like they’re your baby and then they’re not. They go out into the world and then you’re not a part of every moment of it. Everyone has their own experience with it. It’s a surreal experience. I can’t quite put it into words but yeah, it’s hard to wrap your mind around.
Based on some of your other work. This didn’t seem like an obvious fit for you. What attracted you to direct this movie?
David: I get that. People who don’t know me, and who have only seen Brightburn and The Hive, probably have only seen or come to understand a sliver of my taste and my personality. And the funny thing is, my friends and the people closest to me who have seen this movie feel like this is the most me a movie has been that I’ve made. It is funny because I know that isn’t totally the expectation because I’m someone who’s made, you know, kind of harder, R movies and this isn’t that but this has just so many magical and fantastical elements. I’m in love with exploring things that you wouldn’t conventionally find scary and finding what’s scary in them, and I’m in love with playing with colors you wouldn’t expect in in horror like pink and purple and sparkly things and I love being able to take your expectations of cute and sweet and turning it into evil. To me it feels very obvious that that would be something I’d make.
There are all of these elements of obvious horror and things we would expect within it, what was it like fusing all of that together?
David: When you look at the genre of ‘gateway horror,’ if you can really just classify that as the genre that has like a library behind it. If you look at any comparable film, especially in a recent comparable film, the filmmaking is closer to comedies, or like adventure comedies, with the visual style of horror, but they’re not really horror. The horror that I love, and the horror that, Sam Raimi, his style brings to mind, all that kind of fun never gets played with in a family environment. Those tropes are sort of like the heart of horror ideas. So the idea was to make something that really pushes it, but pushes it in a safe, fun way and explores family horror, like what the concept of family horror is, but using references that often aren’t used, and to make something that actually is a horror movie and not an adventure comedy.
What was your favorite reference that you included in this film?
David: There’s a lot of references in the movie. My favorite reference is a bit obvious, one thing I wanted to bring was a piece or a taste of Sam Raimi’s influence over me into this movie. Just as I brought Lost Boys influenced Alex into his storytelling, I kind of wanted to bring Sam’s influence into my storytelling, and the way I did that was I wanted to shoot the unicorn sequence like Sam shot Evil Dead. And so we shot it with all these crazy POV, chases through the woods. Instead of this dark force that’s been summoned by the Necronomicon, it’s a unicorn and so, of course, the vision is so colorful and magical and stuff but it’s still just as evil and threatening and that, to me, makes me laugh every time I see it because it’s a very clear reference and homage to Sam.
What was it like working with the cast? You have Krysten Ritter, who I wouldn’t usually put with a horror movie, and you’ve got these two kids who are just so amazing.
David: Their performances were so good and, I mean, you think about the challenge that Winslow had in front of him. He’s in every scene in the movie and he’s so good and the emotional range of that role, he’s real and vulnerable and, man, the confidence it takes to be that vulnerable in front of a camera, he’s incredible. And Lidya (Jewett), when she auditioned, I was like, ‘I think that girl’s gonna win an Oscar one day and I just want to be in her bio somewhere.’ And with Krysten, I mean, it’s true, you wouldn’t typically think of her in horror, but that’s what’s great about it. She comes into this role that is sort of different than what she’s been playing lately and owns it. To me, I really found a kindred spirit in Krysten, you know, I think we sort of were both weird kids growing up. And I think we both kind of had a, I don’t know gothy darkness to us and and I think we both got made fun of a lot for it. I think we’re both drawn to this movie. We both had a lot of the same influences and we bonded over our love of Tim Burton and Lost Boys, we talked about movies a lot. After talking to her, I just think we would have been friends as teenagers, you know, we had similar interests. Not only did she give such a great performance, but she would also channel the cinematic spirit of the movie in just who she is.
And her character has a really profound line where she says that “every good story hints at the truth,” what is the truth that you are hinting at with this movie?
David: Well, there’s a lot of truth in the movie. It’s funny that you’ve isolated that line because it’s a line that wasn’t in the book. I went through the book and I circled a bunch of lines, because the writer had written this beautiful story. One of the lines he wrote that wasn’t in the original scripts, and although the writers did an incredible job, but this line, it was like, ‘there’s beautiful darkness that dances in your brain’ and I circled that.I was like, ‘we need that. That is at the core of this movie and, at the same time, the truth. I felt like there was a bit that needed to be set up and a moment that needed to sort of pay off conceptually. I don’t want to get too much into that because I think it’s a line that people can sort of pull and find their own truth in it, but certainly a piece of the truth is when he repeats the line later.
I can’t leave this interview without asking you about the cat poop scene. Was that originally in the book? How did that come to be?
David: It’s funny because this was the scene that I said to Netflix, to the producers, I was like, ‘Listen, this is either going to just not work at all, or it’s going to be very talked about.’ It seems to be the latter. So, there used to be a scene, essentially it’s the start of act two, and we’re setting up the relationships. The sequence is before he starts to sort of get into the meat of it, and we’re establishing the relationships that he has with Yaz and Lenore. The bit that was there wasn’t working, it was very expensive in that there was going to require a lot of CGI cat stuff and and the moment just didn’t feel very strong. I don’t remember exactly but I just remember sitting there with the storyboard artists, and we were boarding the scene and I was like, ‘there’s no way for me to do the scene without spending just a ton of money on something. There’s nothing interesting about the scene.’ We were talking out loud and I was pacing in the room, and what we needed, you know, everyone’s shitting on him, so we need the cat to shit on him in some way also. And then that led to like a very weird ‘aha’ moment where I was like, yes! I started explaining the scene and I was laughing, I couldn’t even get through telling the storyboard artist what I was trying to describe because I was laughing so hard, and then he started drawing it. We finished drawing it, we looked at it and we were laughing so hard in the room, and we’re like, ‘wow this is great! Too bad, no one will ever let us put it in the movie.’ And sure enough to Netflix’s credit, they saw the value in the scene and they loved it and let me put it in the movie. I’m so grateful, because I think it’s so fun.
If the apartment was going to lure you in, what would it use?
David: Good question. What would I just drop all sense of danger or concern and walk into a stranger’s apartment to just pick up and start doing? It would be like an Xbox seven or something, you know, like just two or three generations ahead or some fancy gaming console from the future. Yeah, I would kick open the door just to hold the controller in my hand and see what the graphics look like.