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Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase Movie Review –Smart Teen Sleuthing

The classic teen detective is modernized beautifully by It actress Sophia Lillis

Mar 14, 2019

By: Lynn Barker

In Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, 16-year-old Nancy (Sophia Lillis) and her dad Carson (Sam Trammell) have moved to rural River Heights from Chicago after the death of Nancy’s mom. Nancy is bored silly, longs for excitement and wants to do something worthwhile. After helping new galpals Bess (Mackenzie Graham) and George (Zoe Renee) get even with Bess’s cyber bully school hottie Derek Barnes (Evan Castelloe), Nancy, in trouble with dad and local lawmen for damaging the Boys’ locker room, learns that an historic mansion is being haunted...by someone. Can she get to the heart of this mystery?

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase Trailer


Nancy is phoned by friend George telling her that there is a video going viral that makes fun of their friend Bess. Seeing a reflection of the cameraman on the video, Nancy realizes it’s school hottie Derek. The girls decide to get even before he does it to someone else. His social media presence means everything to him so the girls work together to mess with him. Nancy fixes the Boys’ locker room showers to dye him blue! Then they make sure he is on camera for all of his followers. He’s laughed at and it’s a big success.

Nancy and friends want to get even with a bullyNancy and friends want to get even with a bullyCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

In Trouble

Nancy’s dad and Derek’s dad are both called into the police station. Derek’s dad blames everything on Nancy even when he is shown Derek’s bully video of Bess. Nancy is sentenced to eight hours a day of community service. It’s summer soon! Now that is ruined. Dad says that the way Nancy got even was stooping to Derek’s level and not right. He thinks she has been pulling pranks etc. so they will have to move back to Chicago. They argue over the different ways they’ve handled Nancy’s mom’s death.

Nancy's dad at the police stationNancy's dad at the police stationCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The Train

While trying to avoid popular mean girl Helen (Laura Wiggins), Derek’s girlfriend who is pissed at her, Nancy works at an outdoor festival for her baker Aunt Hannah (Andrea Anders). Nancy’s lawyer Dad is backing locals who want to prevent an extension of train tracks into town. It will ruin the charm of the town. Others, including dad’s pal and Nancy’s Godfather Nate (John Bridell) do want the train even if it will mean tearing down some local historical mansions. Later on her skateboard, Nancy sees that Derek gets out of his dad’s car and is angrily moving for her when his dad stops him. Dad’s license plate says “Winning”. Figures. Later, another car tries to run Nancy down, a thuggy guy Willie Wharton (Jesse C. Boyd)  grabs her arm and tells her to stop her dad fighting the train or bigwigs lose a lot of money and he will “get” her.

Nancy's Godfather Nate is in favor of the trainNancy's Godfather Nate is in favor of the trainCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Haunted House?

While Nancy is on trash pick-up duty, an older woman Flora (Linda Lavin) and her niece mean girl Helen walk by talking about the awful hauntings at Flora’s place lately. Flora explains that her house was once the locale for a suicide murder and there are rumors that the dead still are in the walls, wailing. Nancy is fascinated. Dad gives her permission to help Flora but otherwise, she’s grounded. At the house that night, Nancy and Helen, who’ve called a truce, experience weirdness. Helen sees a creepy guy looking in the window. Nancy runs outside to see a car pulling away. Was it Derek?

Nancy learns about Flora's haunted houseNancy learns about Flora's haunted houseCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

A Creepy Night

Cute Deputy Patrick (Andrew Matthew Welch) is outside and vows to help. Helen says Derek and his entire family are on vacation so not him. Nancy recognized the plate though. It said “Winning”.  After experiencing flickering lights, drawers opening, floating candles, noises and more, Nancy deals with a man in a pig-faced mask.  His tracks indicate he came from outside.. must be a secret entrance. Behind a hidden door, Nancy and Helen find a secret room and an interior hallway that reveals how these “tricks” were pulled off. This haunting is not supernatural! Were drugs used to make the girls and Flora see things and get headaches?

Before the haunting, Nancy, Helen and Flora have funBefore the haunting, Nancy, Helen and Flora have funCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Break In

Finding a discarded metal tank, Nancy reasons some kind of hallucinogenic gas could have been inside. She, George, Bess and Helen break into the school lab to test it. They blame Helen for not stopping Derek’s bullying. She leaves upset and the girls discover that the gas inside the tank is based on nutmeg, a lot of it. Nancy goes to Derek’s house and picks the lock into the garage finding that the family car does have residue from Flora’s yard on it. It was there! Deputy Patrick catches her but makes excuses for her to Aunt Hannah who further grounds Nancy.

Playing cards. Did you hear something?Playing cards. Did you hear something?Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Where is Dad?

It’s not like Nancy’s dad not to call and check on her. He is supposed to be out of town on a business trip but hasn’t answered his phone or called. Wazzup?  Nate says dad had to go on a camping trip with a high-powered guy trying to stop the train from coming to town. Must be no phone reception. Nancy finds a motel room confirmation on dad’s desk. After Helen further apologizes re: Derek, the two take Hannah’s car, although Nancy can’t really drive, to the motel while Bess, all dolled up by George, goes to a local herb distributor to find out who bought huge quantities of nutmeg recently. Nancy learns that dad was grabbed by some guy at the motel and driven away. Nutmeg buyer is Willie Wharton. He was driving the Barnes’ car! He must have grabbed dad and haunted Flora’s house!

Nancy learns that dad took a motel roomNancy learns that dad took a motel roomCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Who Done It?

Nancy reasons that since Willie had secret access to Flora’s house, maybe he’s hiding dad in the room behind the hidden staircase.  Is he? Who is really behind the haunting? Must be someone powerful who will lose money unless he can force Flora to sell her house to allow the train to come to town. Can Nancy save dad and also solve the mystery?

Flora trusts Nancy to solve the mysteryFlora trusts Nancy to solve the mysteryCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Wrapping Up

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase is mostly female empowering except that Nancy has a burly slightly older guy deputy coming to her rescue often and her friend Bess can’t feel empowered until she is dolled up by a friend. The haunted house mystery is pretty easy to solve. As soon as an adult says that a lot of great historical homes will be torn down if the train comes to town we know that somebody is going to try to get Flora to give up her home. A haunting is a good way to accomplish this. There is a twist on the “who-done-it” end but not that great of a stretch to figure this out either. However, for kids and teens not used to mystery clichés, the case is solid enough. It’s cool that Nancy does use modern “clues” like what times a “baddie” posts on social media to reveal his daily schedule, etc.

Nancy picks up trashNancy picks up trashCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Casting is overall spot-on and the acting is better than the script. Sophia Lillis is really very good at playing a more tomboy-ish version of Nancy Drew. She’s brave to the point of foolishness but that’s kinda cool. It’s still fun to watch the way her analytical, piece-by-piece mind works. Sam Trammell of “True Blood” makes a hot and also believable, loving dad who is still mourning the loss of his wife. Linda Lavin is both funny and wise as wacky Flora.

Nancy's Aunt Hannah grounds herNancy's Aunt Hannah grounds herCourtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

You will probably enjoy the film, relate to a least one of the teens and enjoy watching Nancy put the pieces together to solve a mystery. Despite a few flaws, we can go three stars. Will there be sequels? Up to filmgoers like you.

See Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase Friday, March 15th

Are you a Fan of Mysteries?

Do you think kids and teens are smart enough to solve big mysteries? Would you like to be Nancy Drew? Talk all things mysterious with a comment below and/or on your Kidzworld profile page!