I didn't expect to like this movie. I have always preferred indulging my Nancy Drew obsession in book format, and the older the book the better.
But I decided to give this film a try, since Hidden Staircase is one of my all time favorites.
Surprise! I thought the filmmakers did a decent job creating a classic character that will appeal to a new generation.
Sophia Lillis portrays a believable millennial Nancy, although she's no angel -- she pulls a prank on a school bully and has to do community service. A little too rebellious, one could argue, although in original texts Nancy would pick locks (i.e. break and enter) covertly gather confidential information from the police and routinely broke the rules to suit her own purposes. The skateboarding Lillis is likeable, and her pluck and fearless determination to solve the mystery shines through.
Let's face it, most modern teenagers don't have a housekeeper, so the character of Hannah, Nancy's mother figure, has been reincarnated as her aunt. Well, somebody's got to keep an eye on her. Nancy's fiercely loyal chums are present of course, and this time around Bess doesn't have to suffer George's "fat shaming". But she still worries about her looks, wondering if her skin will break out, so the ever-present anxiety over her diet are very Bess-like characteristics.
The only thing that didn't ring true to me is how Nancy attracted such faithful friends in such a short time. The tight bond the girls share seems unusual considering that Nancy and her father have only recently relocated from Chicago to River Heights after the death of her mother. The writers have even included the character of Helen, a good friend of Nancy's in the books, only this time Helen is the mean girl with the arrogant, brainless boyfriend. I saw this as a nod to the modern school age girl who has endured being bullied via social media, perhaps, and who might relate to this angle. In the end Helen ditches the boy and is welcomed into the friends' fold.
Nancy's "Ned" is personified by hunky Deputy Patrick, who will make a very convenient love interest in any sequels, thanks to the fact that he's a member of the police force.
True to the book plots, Nancy's sleuthing of the "ghost" haunting poor old Flora's house turns out to be very real sabotage by the villain and company, including a secret passage to gain entrance and props used to simulate a haunting. Her father Carson is predictably ambushed and kidnapped, and it all adds up to an accurate and enjoyable modern-day representation of the Nancy Drew Mysteries book series.