Film ratings provide broad parameters on what directors can and cannot do in their movies. PG-13 flicks like Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith and Avengers: Endgame are family-friendly at their core, but are not afraid to experiment with darker elements.
When David Yarovesky, the genius behind the superhero horror film Brightburn, was approached to make a movie geared towards a younger audience, he took a similar approach as the aforementioned blockbusters did with genre-bending.
The director's new film Nightbooks follows Alex, a young boy enamored with scribing scary stories, who must deliver a new spine-tingling tale every night or remain prisoner in a witch's apartment for the rest of his life.
The narrative's execution is family-friendly, but the premise on paper provides an array of dark avenues to go down.
Nightbooks Director Talks Transforming Horror
Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Direct, Nightbooks director David Yarovesky emphasized that he "pushed the limits" on traditional PG horror as he attempted to "re-define that genre":
"I do push the limits of how scary family entertainment can be in this movie for sure. It's still for you and your whole family and your kids to enjoy, but I think this movie does that differently than anything I can think of in recent time. What does a horror movie for the whole family mean? I think we do a lot to redefine that genre."
As Nightbooks is geared towards children, Yarovesky says he welcomed the challenge of "playing with things you wouldn't typically find scary":
"This movie, to me, was an exercise in making things pretty and scary. I always like playing with things you wouldn't typically find scary. Things like superheroes. You don't typically think of Superman's origin story as a nightmare, but what if we played with that conceptually? In this, you see it in the trailer with the unicorn at the end, making it a terrifying unicorn."
Speaking of Superman's origins, Yarovesky flipped that exact narrative upside down in his critically-acclaimed Brightburn, which follows a displaced alien child who uses his newly-discovered powers against his adoptive parents from Kansas.
While both Brightburn and Nightbooks have the connective tissue of transforming horror, Yarovesky says his latest film has far less violence:
"As a filmmaker, you kind of learn about what you make through other peoples' eyes. Brightburn is like a hard R. It's a superhero slasher movie. We pushed the limits of violence to pretty extreme measures. To go from that to this movie, which is for your whole family to enjoy together, there's really no violence in this movie."
Yarovesky Praises Sam Raimi
While Nightbooks is Yarovesky's vision of the 2018 horror-fantasy children's book by J. A. White brought to life, he did have some help from one of the biggest names in the industry.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness director Sam Raimi worked as a producer on Nightbooks. Yarovesky praised what Raimi did for his career, noting that he was a "god" to him growing up:
"Sam Raimi has always been a god to me. Growing up, his name was legend. It was like him and Peter Jackson to me. They made these crazy horror movies that I could find identity in. They were outside of the mainstream."
While everyone has hesitations about meeting their heroes, Yarovesky says his experience with Raimi was nothing short of delightful:
"It's always scary when you meet your idol. They say don't meet your idols, but the people who say that their idol wasn't Sam Raimi. Meeting him was incredible. He was exactly who I wanted him to be, who I imagined in my head. He was so gracious and nice. He had such incredible ideas for the movie, and also was supportive of my vision for the film. That's like the dream scenario, right? How can you come in and be you, put your stamp on it and tell the story with all your wealth and experience, but also get behind what I'm trying to do with it?"
Raimi will be known to modern young audiences as the man behind Doctor Strange 2, but his filmography stretches far beyond next year's multiversal adventure. Raimi directed the entire Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy, as well as the beloved first installments of the Evil Dead franchise.
Even if he doesn't have his name in the credits of every Marvel Studios project, Yarovesky acknowledges Raimi as being integral to modern superhero movies' DNA:
"I credit Sam for cracking modern superhero movies. Without his Spider-Man trilogy, Marvel doesn't know how to be Marvel. Nothing knows how to be anything. I think Spider-Man 2 is one of the best superhero movies of all time. To go from Evil Dead to Spider-Man 2, what a journey and how inspiring."
Raimi allowed Yarovesky's Nightbooks vision to breath, but that didn't mean Yarovesky's latest film was without The Evil Dead director's signature flavors:
"I really wanted to bring a hint of Sam Raimi's brand of horror to a family film. I could see how his scares could translate and be fun and playful, and not terrifying."
Nightbooks is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.