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Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (2019)

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/2/2019

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/1/2019

If there’s one thing that Hollywood likes to do, it’s to milk a franchise to death.  It’s not unusual for a popular character or title to pop up again and again, as long as the money is good.  Having said that, there are some well-known properties which have not me with this sort of exploitation.  The Nancy Drew character first began appearing in books in 1930 and the novels have existed in one form or another since then, going through several series and re-introductions.  However, Nancy Drew has been brought to the screen a surprisingly small number of times.  There were some movies in the 1930s and for my generation, the most familiar incarnation was the 1977 television series, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries.  In 2007, the character was brought back to the big screen in a Nancy Drew film which took more of a tongue-in-cheek approach.  Now, following a brief theatrical run, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase comes to Blu-ray Disc in an attempt to merge the old with the new.


Following the death of his wife, Carson Drew (Sam Trammell) has left Chicago and brought his rambunctious daughter, Nancy (Sophia Lillis), to live in the small town of River Heights.  Nancy has spent some summer’s here, visiting her aunt, Hannah (Andrew Anders), and has made friends with George (Zoe Renee) and Bess (Mackenzie Graham).  When Nancy learns that Bess is being bullied at school by local rich kid Derek (Evan Castelloe), Nancy helps her friend get revenge, which lands her in community service.  This allows her to overhear Flora (Linda Lavin) asking the police for help, as she’s convinced that something weird is occurring in her house, Twin Elms.  Unable to resist a mystery, Nancy approaches Flora and volunteers her assistance, despite that fact that Flora is the aunt of Helen Corning (Laura Wiggins), a stuck-up rich girl who just happens to be Derek’s girlfriend.   Nancy visit Twin Elms and quickly learns that not only is Flora not crazy, she may have stumbled upon a puzzle which effects the entire town.


The bulk of the plot of Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase is taken directly from the 1959 version of the book, clearly anchoring the story in the Nancy Drew tradition.  The small-town setting and the tight-knit group of characters certainly has the vibe of days gone by.  The old house with the hidden staircase is something straight out of a early 20th century film noir. This is combined with a decidedly modern take on the Nancy Drew character.  Nancy rides a long-board (with a helmet, of course) and utilizing modern technology in order to solve the murders.  Screenwriters Nina Fiore & John Herrera have clearly attempted to create a hybrid film which, unlike the “hip” 2007 film, pays homage to the past while having a contemporary feel.


The result is somewhat successful.  The story, while predictable at times, works well enough.  Again, the main premise is taken directly from a novel written in 1959 and no one is reinventing the wheel here.  The mystery is rolled out by the numbers and it is solved by the number, with everything falling neatly into place.  The issues in the film come from the characters, mostly with Nancy.  I always thought that the point of the Nancy Drew character was that she was a fairly average girl who defied expectations by being super-smart and tough when she needed to be.  As portrayed in this film, Nancy is an asexual tomboy-esque girl who is a wise-ass and is constantly breaking the law.  She’s abrasive and the final scene drives home the fact that she’s not going to do the things which most girls do.  There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but she’s not much of a role model and it’s hard to get behind a film where the main character is less likeable than the villains.


Having said all of that, this is the kind of film which my daughters would have loved when they were tweens.  Despite the fact that Nancy doesn’t often serve as a good example of how one should act, the notion that she sticks up for her friends and offers to help Flora does carry a good message.  For once, this is a “family” film which contains little objectional material.  Aside from Nancy’s blatant disdain for the law, and some odd flirting between her and an older male character, the only other questionable thing is some mild violence.  Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase probably won’t start a new series of movies, but it can serve as an introduction to the character for a new generation.  The film rarely rises above made-for-TV quality, but in the vast wasteland which is programming for young adults, you could do far worse.


Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase cast a 30-year old to play teenager Helen on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.  The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 21 Mbps.  The image is very sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. The film has a very strong color palette, and those colors look very good here, and the image is never overly dark or bright.  The level of detail is good and the depth works well.  The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.0 Mbps.  The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  For a family film like this, we get some surprisingly nice effects during the scenes at Twin Elms, as the sounds of the “haunting” come from the front and rear speakers, adding a dimension of space to the audio.  The subwoofer provides some mild “thumps” during these scenes.


The Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extra features.  “A Sleuth, A Girl, and an Inspiration” (9 minutes) has the cast and Director Katt Shea discussing the history of the Nancy Drew character and how they’ve approached working with such an iconic character.  This also includes an overview of Nancy and what makes her special.  Linda Lavin leads us through “Pink Footprints: Touring Twin Elms” (5 minutes) which takes us inside the haunted house to see how elaborately it’s been decorated.  We also see how an additional set was built in a school gym.  The final extra is a 3-minute GAG REEL.

Review Copyright 2019 by Mike Long