“Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase” introduces a new generation to the spirited sleuth that has delighted young fans for just shy of a century. Boasting a strong role model for girls, plenty of powerful messages about standing up for what’s right and a legitimately engaging mystery, the new movie is a solid and safe choice for audiences of all ages.
Sam Trammell plays a Carson Drew—a man who, after the death of his wife, decides to leave Chicago behind and make a fresh start with his 16-year-old daughter Nancy (Sophia Lillis) in River Heights. Nancy hates her new dull hometown and longs for excitement, adventure and the chance to make a difference. That longing ends up getting Nancy in trouble.
Things finally start to turn around for her when she is asked to investigate ghostly activity at Twin Elms mansion. She realizes that she may be in over her head with creaking footsteps, exploding lightbulbs and an ominous creature so she recruits her best friends George (Zoe Renee) and Bess (Mackenzie Graham) along with local mean girl Helen (Laura Wiggins) to help her solve the mystery.
Originally introduced in the 1930s, the character of Nancy Drew has been the subject of a literary series that has sold more than 80 million books—which have been translated in more than 45 languages. The character and her stories have also made the leap to other movies (including a 2007 film starring Emma Roberts), video games and even a television series. Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase falls right in line with the entertaining and empowering franchise.
Whether or not Nancy Drew can compete with superheroes and other big-budget spectacles of this day and age remains to be seen. This certainly is old-fashioned fare, prioritizing story, characters and messages over eye-popping visuals. The film will, therefore, be fighting an uphill battle at the box office. But it is a battle well worth fighting, as movies like “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase” are too far and few between nowadays.
Moviegoers who were too young to see 2016’s It but somehow did so anyway may be drawn to the movie due to the presence of Lillis, who starred in the horror flick. The actress embodies the qualities of Nancy Drew quite well. Hopefully, Lillis gets additional opportunities to bring more mysteries to life but her time in the role may be short-lived as The CW has a television series based on the material coming down the pipeline with Kennedy McMann starring as Nancy Drew.
At any rate, this latest iteration of the character is worth holding a magnifying glass up to, even if its mystery is easily solved by perceptive audience members. Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase does not set out to reinvent the franchise—it doesn’t need to; it just aims to update it for modern viewers while preserving the simple-yet-entertaining storytelling method that we sadly do not often see anymore. You go, girl!