In the Netflix film Nightfall Tales by David Yarovesky, terror is an excuse to laugh. Or quite the opposite. The film moves between these two extremes, and it does so with a lightness that is astonishing as it is compelling and engaging. What is the trick to make such an unlikely combination work well? Without a doubt, the film’s ability to look at the terrifying from a certain conspiratorial, daring and completely refreshing air. Of course, it is not the first time that such an argument has shown similar ideas, but it is one of the few that it has been successful.
In 2020, the adaptation of the book The Witches by Roald Dahl directed Robert Zemeckis tried the same experiments, but without good results. Tales by nightfall seems to have learned their lesson and it is much denser, well raised and bright of what was the Zemeckis film.
Closer to André Øvredal’s Tales to Tell in the Dark (2020), Yarovesky’s Netflix film meditates on the macabre with care. It does so with a display of resources that create an intuitive and sinister atmosphere. But also it is a macabre fairy tale. A twisted, extravagant and hilarious one, who manages to find his own way of narrating horrors without falling into caricature.
There’s something from Chris Butler and Sam Fell’s The Amazing World of Norman to this journey through the dark. Far removed from the semi parodic duology Chills, Yarovesky’s film knows that terror is at the center of its plot. But his approach has something subtle, consistent and above all elaborated from a careful version of good and evil. Nothing is what it seems in this box of horrors that is based on time, complicity and a certain mythological air.
‘Tales at nightfall’, in search of the shadows
Of course, Tales After Nightfall is a horror movie for kids, so the options are few. If Fear Street, the youth hit of the summer on Netflix, brought the best of the Slashers, the new Netflix movie plays on something different. He does it with the thoughtful conviction that what will count must have the lightness of a camping story and also a certain inner vitality. To achieve this, the director – who already created a child monster in Brightburn: son of darkness – manages to find an ideal middle ground. The shape? Narrate the nightmare of any teenager with an overactive imagination.
He does this by sustaining the narrative about the possibility that true darkness – the one that doesn’t make you laugh – is beneath the surface. But it doesn’t actually show it, it announces it. Meanwhile, the plot progresses apace. Alex (Winslow Fegley) is a talented boy whose biggest hobby is telling scary stories. The innocence of the character is immediately reminiscent of Gordie Lachance from the classic Count on Me. Alex tells the horror stories that are also rich, interesting and complex. And that is why, at the beginning of Tales at Nightfall, and in fear of being considered a kind of oddity, he decides to abandon what he considers a hobby.
It is a symbol of the loss of innocence that Tales at Nightfall handles with intelligence and a good sense of pain. Alex is not about to just burn his stories, but to question his talent. Also to elaborate and ask yourself consistent questions about whether that passion – irrational and unstoppable – is something more than a hobby. While all this is happening, Alex is drawn to Natacha’s haunted house (Krysten Ritter), a witch who wishes to hear horror stories.
It is of course a reinvention of Sherezade and one that is constructed through the same sense of the inevitable of the universal classic. But in this case, the stories that are told are horror stories, they are small twists and turns and mysteries that are tied together to tell something more unique. Of course, Natasha lives up to the stereotype of the witch and adds a kind of beauty to her that surprises with her good taste.
It is the moment in which Tales at nightfall finds its true meaning and the identity that makes it a small box of mysteries. Natasha’s house is just a symbol of magic at its best, inadvertently paying homage to Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll’s notion of sinister and absurd is in Natasha’s great library and the splendid garden full of amazing creatures. Of course, macabre fairy tale that it is, immediately this unlikely combination of Sherezade and Hansel and Gretel finds its target. Alex must escape at any cost and for that he will need the help of Yasmin (Lidya Jewett), another recluse in this wonderful and sinister house.
The silent mirrors and the secret fear
But despite its childish air, the Netflix movie is also a rare experiment in the horror genre. Yarovesky uses the subjective camera to elaborate, rethink and reconstruct the spaces and the result is a journey towards something dark. It may seem innocent, but in reality Tales by Nightfall is a quest for the haunting. It is a sample of the terror that ends up transforming into something more and carefully hold a dialogue about good and evil. What we believe, imagine and dream.
For the occasion, there are moments that clearly recall Coraline’s most awkward images and even Burton’s exquisite Frankenweenie. But without becoming a full-fledged horror story, Yarovesky manages to make it an elegant look at various forms of darkness. Like Natasha’s haunting beauty or the exquisite grounds of her tempting house, Tales at Nightfall is a provocation. And one that knows how to create the perfect climate to turn the world of the terrifying into a completely different idea than it might be supposed.