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Movie Review

Do not make Nancy Drew angry. You wouldn't like her when she's angry.

Just ask Derek Barnes, a popular jock with a habit of bullying less-athletic types. When he picks on Nancy's good friend Bess Marvin, well, Nancy's having none of it. It's time to "adjust Derek's social media presence" via some "restorative justice," Nancy tells Bess and their teen-girl bestie, George Fayne.

And so they do, via a carefully choreographed prank that involves Nancy inserting blue dye into the boys' locker room shower head that Derek's about to use.

Derek ends up blue as a Smurf. And Nancy? She ends up with a summer of community service for masterminding the prank. Nancy's dad, Carson (a lawyer in the small town of River Heights, where they've just moved to from Chicago) appreciates his daughter's ingenuity. But he'd like to see her put her creative, problem-solving skills to work a bit more productively.

Nancy doesn't wait long. As she's picking up trash outside the police office, she runs into Derek's prom-queen girlfriend, Helen, and Helen’s great aunt, Flora. She overhears Helen and Flora talking with Sheriff Marchbanks about an infestation in the older woman's home.

A ghostly infestation.

A haunted house? What could be more fun than helping a nice old lady with that kind of problem! Nancy volunteers to spend a night at Flora's house—much to the older woman's joy and Helen's consternation.

Nancy doesn't think the house is haunted. Then again, she's at a loss to explain the strange phenomena that manifest themselves when she and Helen spend the night with Flora: drawers opening by themselves. Lights flickering and exploding. Music blaring. And a ghostly character in a pig-faced mask.

Yikes!

It certainly looks like Nancy and Co. need to call Ghostbusters. But a stray clue Nancy notices leads to … a hidden staircase in Aunt Flora's house.

As often happens in mysteries, one clue leads to another and another and—what's that? Carson Drew has gone missing? Now Nancy and her friends really have something to investigate—something that may be more nefarious than the alleged ghost which may or may not be haunting poor Aunt Flora.

Positive Elements

The latest big-screen take on this legendary teen sleuth has a lot going for it. Let's start with Nancy's relationship with her dad.

Nancy's precocious to an extreme when we meet her, but her father takes a measured approach to his daughter's hijinx. He sympathizes with her desire for a bully to get a taste of his own medicine, but he cautions her that taking matters into her own hands is problematic , and that being a vigilante isn't something she should aspire to. Nancy's grounded and has to do community service, appropriate consequences for the girl's aggressive attempt to dish out that "restorative justice."

As the story unfolds, we learn that Nancy's mother was a civil rights activist, but that she's now passed away. (Details surrounding her death are never offered.) We learn that Carson had to leave Chicago because the memory of his beloved wife there was just too strong. Nancy has a hard time accepting that, but her feisty aunt Hannah (Carson's sister) helps Nancy see that her dad needed a fresh start to love her well.

The topsy-turvy plot also involves Carson's legal work to stop historic sections of the town from being torn down to make way for a new rail system. He's willing to stand up to strong forces that oppose him in order to do what he thinks is right for the town.

When Carson goes missing, Nancy spearheads an investigation of his whereabouts that ends up intersecting with the clues she's discovered about the hidden staircase in Aunt Flora's house. Nancy and her friends all act quite bravely, putting themselves on the line, once the pieces of this mystery begin to come together.

A young deputy sheriff named Patrick believes in Nancy, and he helps her at several key points. Helen eventually apologizes to Bess for mean things she's said, as well as for not doing more to stop Derek from treating her (and others) poorly.

Nancy and her friends bend a few rules in pursuit of the truth. (More on that below.) But, the film wants us to see that they do so out of loyalty to each other, as well as to Carson Drew and Aunt Flora. The story also emphasizes how these young women have the talent, creativity and determination to solve problems and unravel a mystery—a message that's definitely intended to be an empowering one to a younger female audience.

Spiritual Content

Evidence initially suggests that Aunt Flora's house really is haunted. All manner of apparently paranormal activity keeps happening in the house. When Nancy asks Flora what she usually does in these moments, the older woman says, "Pray!"

One of Carson's closest friends, a man named Nate, is Nancy's godfather. Someone exclaims, "Holy nutcrackers, Batman!" Another person says, "At least I still have my soul." Someone utters a sincere, "Thank God!"

[Spoiler Warning] Nancy eventually susses out what's really going on in Aunt Flora's house, and it's not supernatural.

Sexual Content

Nancy's friend Helen wears revealing outfits, including tight tops, a short dress and a midriff-baring shirt. A couple other female characters wear some cleavage-baring tops. George (a teen girl, it should be noted) encourages Bess to stick out her chest in an effort to look more mature. We see a shirtless Derek lifting weights.

We hear that Aunt Flora was once a burlesque dancer who went by the stage name of "Miss Fabulous Strawberry DeVille." The two teens encourage her to demonstrate her "shimmies," and Aunt Flora obliges by shaking both her chest and backside. Aunt Flora talks of meeting Mick Jagger, and she gushes that he had "hips made of butter."

At one point, Aunt Flora suggestively admits that she's got a long list of "gentlemen callers." When the young women are slightly aghast, Flora asks, "Too many?" To which Nancy enthusiastically responds, "Never!"

Nancy poses as a janitor to sneak into the boys' locker room at school in order to put the dye in a showerhead. Though she doesn't see any unclothed guys, there's certainly a sense of urgency in the scene. As she sneaks out, Derek is shown in a towel walking into the shower area.

We also see multiple videos of Derek leering suggestively at girls wearing tight, revealing workout wear.

When Nate gives Carson an appreciative, friendly (but definitely not sexual) hug, Nancy quips, "Eww. God. Get a room." There's a joke about a woman moving to Florida because "she loves a man in a Speedo."

Violent Content

As mentioned, a couple of people are knocked out with chemicals. One person is kidnapped. A couple of characters get tied to chairs. Seemingly paranormal activity bangs Nancy and Helen around a bit, with the latter even being yanked across the room in a chair.

A man in a car chases Nancy on her skateboard. He eventually stops and tells her that she needs to tell her father to back off from opposing the planned rail system … or else. When Nancy tells her dad about it, he says, "I'm gonna kill the guy." Later on, a man with a gun threatens to kill several people.

We hear a legend of sorts about a love triangle in 1884 that ended in a double murder/suicide. It's speculated that the ghost haunting Aunt Flora's house was the killer.

Crude or Profane Language

About 10 uses of "oh my god." One character says something scared the "bejesus" out of her. There's one use of "oh lord." We hear "freaking" twice, "jeez" once and an unfinished "son of a¬¬—." We also hear several "butt" references ("pain in the butt," "saved my butt," "kick some butt").

Drug and Alcohol Content

Two people get knocked out by (presumably) chloroform rags. We hear about a hallucinogenic reaction that can occur after ingesting large amounts of a particular spice, and we see several people having hallucinations.

Nancy realizes that a hotel front desk manager is drinking on the job. Someone jokes about a "special batch of Kool-Aid."

Other Negative Elements

Nancy is smart, skilled and precocious … which often gets her in trouble. As noted, she seeks meanspirited revenge on Derek after he posts a video of Bess that comments nastily on her hygeine. It's also suggested that Nancy and her friends hack some of Derek's social media accounts, as they have access to many pictures of him. Nancy rationalizes her behavior by telling her friends that "psychologists say" it's helpful for bullies to get a "taste of their own medicine."

We hear that Nancy's prank caused "thousands of dollars of damage," according to her dad, who says that what Nancy did was a felony. Nancy insists she's off the hook because she's still a minor.

Elsewhere, Nancy and her friends break into the high school to do a chemistry experiment, and Nancy also picks a lock to someone's garage to verify a clue. Bess, meanwhile, poses as an adult to get information. And as noted above, Nancy and Helen manipulate a hotel employee into giving them important video footage—and that's after they "appropriate" Hannah's car without permission, which Nancy isn't old enough to be driving, either.

The film offers some light chastisement of Nancy and her friends' choices, but mostly it lets them off the hook and implies that their decisions were justified by the fact that they were trying to solve an important mystery.

Aunt Flora plays penny ante poker with her niece and Nancy.

Conclusion

The latest iteration of Nancy Drew is the kind of movie we want Hollywood to make more of … almost.

The spunky, plucky teen detective Nancy Drew, of course, has been delighting audiences on the page and on the big screen since the 1930s. Her gutsy determination paired with her ingenuity and courage have made her a role model for generations of readers—especially young girls.

There's a lot to like this time around, too. Nancy, played by up-and-coming young actress Sophia Lillis (best known for her recent role in the horror movie IT) is simply a delight to watch here. She embodies Nancy Drew perfectly in a gently twisting caper that also delivers some great messages about female empowerment and friendship.

Now, about that almost.

In a movie that obviously aims at empowering and encouraging tween and young teen girls, there are some odd choices here. Aunt Flora's past as a burlesque dancer tops that list, followed by the winking suggestion that she's had romantic relationships of some sort with lots of men.

And even though it's suggested that the ends don't justify the means, Nancy's choices to repeatedly break into places, to steal her aunt's car, and to manipulate adults still feel like issues that parents will need to talk about with impressionable viewers. Finally, a teen girl sneaking into a boys' locker room when they're about to shower doesn't seem like the wisest choice either—to say the least.

Toss in quite a few "oh my gods" and winks at gambling and ghosts, and what should have been a home-run movie for young girls is merely a solid double that comes with some caveats.

Compared to almost everything out there these days, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase feels like a pretty delightful throwback in most ways. But Nancy's latest update still packs a few surprising twists and turns for parents of young fans to navigate as well.

Be sure to read our review of the book connected to this movie: The Hidden Staircase.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Sophia Lillis as Nancy Drew; Sam Trammell as Carson Drew; Mackenzie Graham as Bess Marvin; Zoe Renee as George Fayne; Laura Wiggins as Helen Corning; Andrea Anders as Hannah; Linda Lavin as Flora; Jon Briddell as Nate; Jesse C. Boyd as Willie Wharton; Evan Castelloe as Derek Barnes; Andrew Matthew Welch as Deputy Patrick; Jay DeVon Johnson as Sheriff Marchbanks

Director

Katt Shea ( )

Distributor

Warner Bros.

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

March 15, 2019

On Video

April 2, 2019

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Adam R. Holz

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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