In David Yarovesky’s latest horror film, the Brightburn director goes for a more family-friendly approach with NIGHTBOOKS, based on J.A. White’s YA horror/fantasy book of the same name. In NIGHTBOOKS, when Alex (Winslow Fegley), a boy obsessed with scary stories, is trapped by an evil witch (Krysten Ritter) in her magical apartment and must tell a scary story every night to stay alive, he teams up with another prisoner, Yasmin (Lidya Jewett), to find a way to escape.
Recently, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon Mcgrew had the chance to speak with Director David Yarovesky for NIGHTBOOKS. During our chat, we discussed everything from creating a distinctive dark fantasy look for the film to adapting the book for the screen and what viewers should ultimately take away from the film, especially children.
Thank you so much for speaking with me today! To kick things off, had you read the book, or were you familiar with it prior to adapting it?
David Yarovesky: I didn’t know anything about the book. I read it first as a script and then I immediately read the book because I thought it was such a cool story. You can just tell when you’re reading it that the writers did such an incredible job making it feel like a really well-thought-out world, but the kind of really well-thought-out world that comes from books. And so, I just knew that there’d be a wealth of information about the universe and about the characters and about the internal logic of the storytelling. I had that book by my side when I was making the movie and I would refer to it as this kind of like Bible because there are so many times… When you’re making a movie, you don’t even realize all these subtle little decisions you’re making and the bigger implications of that. It just helps to delve deeper and really understand the mythos in the whole world.
The cast is fantastic. Both Winslow Fegley and Lidya Jewett are well on their way to becoming big stars. But what was really surprising, in a good way, was the casting of Krysten Ritter as the evil witch. Can you talk a bit about bringing her on for this?
David Yarovesky: There was something about her that just worked. Just conceptually, when you’re thinking about the tone of the movie, the world, she’s got this darkness that kind of swirls around her, and I mean that in the most positive way. She seems to come from a different time, you know? Like when I was growing up there were gothier, more spooky things and I feel like there’s a bit less of that now. She channels that era to me. Then we started talking about the movie and about the role and she really got it. She got excited about it. We talked for a long time about Lost Boys and what an impact that movie had on both of us and how much we love that movie. I just felt like she really got what we were trying to do. One of the things that I said to her, I had to say this to every department a hundred times, but this is such a testament and a massively huge compliment to Tim Burton and Danny Elfman. They have defined the look of fantasy/horror of any dark fantasy things for generations. You go anywhere near something like this and it sounds like Danny Elfman and it looks like a version of Tim Burton. I wanted to make a dark fantasy world that was just different than that you know? Their stuff was hugely influential to me growing up and I love their work, but I’m not them. I wanted to make something that was true to me and to what I wanted to see in the world. And I wanted to make something that looked different and felt different. And to me, this movie was so different. And so I wanted its style to reflect that and Krysten understood that and got that and was excited by that. What does dark fantasy look like if it’s not all crooked and stripy, you know [Laughs]?
Brightburn featured heavy gore and violence, and now you’ve stepped into the world of family-friendly horror. How did you know when to pull back in order to not cross over any lines?
David Yarovesky: The truth is I never pulled back. What I did was create simple boundaries because I’m making a family movie and I would not like it if someone’s eyeball fell out in a family movie, you know what I mean [Laughs]? It was a very simple box that I could draw, where there’s really not going to be any violence in the movie. There’s really not going to be any cursing. There’s certainly sure as hell not going to be any nudity in this movie. Besides that, everything’s fair game. When you watch The Conjuring movies, the secret to every one of those movies is its anticipation. You’re sitting on the edge of your seat. The thing I kept saying when walking around the set of Brightburn was that the scariest part of every movie is someone walking through a dark house saying, “Hello.” That’s the scariest part of a movie. You can put that in a G-rated movie. It could be anywhere. So, I didn’t really feel like I needed to pull back and Netflix, to their credit, really got what we were doing, got behind it, and said, yeah, let’s try this. Let’s see what happens. It’s wildly different than any other movie in this genre because a lot of family horror movies are really adventure comedies in disguise. They have the aesthetic of horror, but they’re adventure comedies and they’re incredibly safe and non-threatening. I wanted to play with the storytelling genre of horror and make that family.
As a horror fan yourself, what made you excited about directing a film such as NIGHTBOOKS that could help usher in kids that are interested in the horror genre?
David Yarovesky: It’s sort of even bigger than that. It’s really amazing to think that in a couple of days this movie will come out. It will be in 191 countries and in one day the movie just drops and suddenly. Who knows how many hundreds of million users Netflix has? All of them have access to this movie. And, over the course of who knows a month or a year, millions of people will watch this movie, millions of families will watch it together and they’ll learn about horror. For some of them, that’ll just be another movie they watch but for a couple of them…I think when you’re young, you use art to define yourself. You try to understand who you are on the planet, who you are in the world. For me, it was music and it was movies that really allowed me to say, oh, I like this.
It’s all bigger than me. It all just feels surreal to think about. I made the movie as a love letter to the next generation from one old weirdo to the next generation of weirdos to be like, this is what happens when you spend your life obsessed with things. You teach yourself. You become a master at it. This is what you could do. The saddest thing to me is someone who has all this passion and excitement and magic and the world stomps it out of them. So, this was sort of a love letter to the kids today saying don’t let the world stomp your magic out. While I love that it will expose kids to horror movies and teach them about this awesome tradition of scaring each other, it’s bigger than just horror movies. It’s for anyone who loves anything. Find the thing that you love and become completely obsessed with it, know it better than anyone else and just love it and get good at it and then do it to people. And do it better than I’m going to do it, better than anyone’s done it before. That’s the one thing I hope for with this movie. It’s an ambitious goal, for sure, but it’s what I hope.
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