Sophia Lillis Shines as Legendary Teen Sleuth in Adaptation of Carolyn Keene Classic

After the untimely death of his wife, Carson Drew decided he and his daughter Nancy (Sophia Lillis) might benefit from a change of scenery. So, they moved from Chicago to an idyllic oasis in suburbia called River Heights.

The relocation proved to be far more of a challenge for Nancy than her civil rights attorney father, a pillar of the legal community, since the 16-year-old found herself having to adjust to a new school. Plus, the picture-perfect town seemed pretty dull at first blush to a thrill-seeker born with a sense of adventure.

When we’re introduced to our heroine during the opening credits, she’s careening around corners on a skateboard, the driving soundtrack repeating the refrain, “I’m more than just a girl!” After star Sophia Lillis takes off her helmet and shakes her fiery red mane in the wind, one can’t help but notice her uncanny resemblance to a young Amy Adams.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take long for Nancy to find a couple of kindred souls in George (Zoe Renee) and Bess (Mackenzie Graham)—classmates also saddled with a low social status.

Bess is being teased by “boy most likely” Derek (Evan Castelloe). Feisty Nancy puts an end to the bullying by setting up a stunt that turns his skin blue while showering. Sure, she has to do some community service for the prank, but it solidifies her relationship with Bess and George.

All of the above is prologue for the ensuing case of “The Hidden Staircase,” a multi-layered mystery which holds up well for story published in 1930. The plot thickens when Flora (Linda Lavin) asks Nancy and company to investigate the paranormal activity inside her scary, old mansion, the Twin Elms.

Is the house haunted or might this merely be a hoax and the handiwork of a revenge-minded Derek? A delightful whodunit/tale of female empowerment!

Very Good (3 stars)

Rated PG for peril, mild epithets, mature themes and suggestive material

Running time: 89 minutes

Production Companies: Red 56 / A Very Good Production, Inc

Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun

For movies opening April 12, 2019

 

WIDE RELEASES

After (Unrated) Adaptation of Anna Todd’s romance novel about a college freshman (Josephine Langford) tempted to abandon her high school sweetheart (Dylan Arnold) when she meets a mysterious rebel (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin) on campus first semester. With Selma Blair, Jennifer Beals, and Peter Gallagher.

Hellboy (R for pervasive profanity, gore, and graphic violence) Third live-action adaptation of Mike Mignola’s graphic novel finds the demonic superhero (David Harbour) and his closest allies locked in battle with a sorceress (Milla Jovovich) bent on avenging an ancient betrayal. Cast includes Ian McShane, Sophie Okonedo, Thomas Haden Church, and Sasha Lane.

Little (PG-13 for suggestive material) Romantic fantasy revolving around a ruthless tech mogul (Regina Hall) whose dream of reliving her childhood comes true. With Issa Rae, Tracee Ellis Ross, Tone Bell, and Mikey Day.

Missing Link (PG for action, peril, and mild, rude humor) Zach Galifianakis plays the title character in this animated family comedy which finds Bigfoot venturing from the Pacific Northwest to Shangri-La to find long-lost relatives with help of a legendary British explorer (Hugh Jackman). Voice cast includes Zoe Saldana, Emma Thompson, and Stephen Fry.

INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

A Dark Place (Unrated) Suspense thriller set in a sleepy Pennsylvania town where a sanitation truck driver (Andrew Scott) becomes obsessed with solving a young local boy’s (Nolan Cook) “missing persons” case. With Christa Beth Campbell, Jason Davis, and Denise Gough.

Girls of the Sun (Unrated) Middle East saga chronicling an all-female, military battalion’s effort to liberate the town of Corduene from Muslim extremists. Co-starring Golshifteh Farahani, Emmanuelle Bercot, and Zubeyde Bulut. (In French, Kurdish, Arabic, and English with subtitles)

Mary Magdalene (R for bloody and disturbing images) Biblical tale, set in the Holy Land in 33 A.D., recounting the transformation of a young woman (Rooney Mara) inspired to follow the charismatic founder of Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth (Joaquin Phoenix). Cast includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Zohar Shtrauss, and David Schofield as Apostles Peter, John, and Thomas, respectively. (In English and Hebrew with subtitles)

My Life with Emily (PG-13 for sexuality) Molly Shannon plays Emily Dickinson in this biopic exploring her long-time romantic relationship with her sister-in-law (Susan Ziegler). With Amy Seimetz, Brett Gellman, and Jackie Monahan.

Teen Spirit (PG-13 for suggestive content, and for underage smoking and drinking) Coming of age drama about a shy British girl’s (Elle Faning) attempt to escape her tiny island by entering a popular singing competition staging auditions in town. With Zlatko Buric, Rebecca Hall, and Agnieszka Grochowska.

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