The Book of Henry, the third film from director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World), opens Friday in wide release. It's a $10-million drama set in upstate New York about a precocious preteen (Jaeden Lieberher) who, after witnessing the abusive behavior of a powerful neighbor (Dean Norris), takes matters into his own hands. He sets an elaborate path for his mother (Naomi Watts) to follow when he's no longer able to pursue his plan on his own.
The film might be seen as a strange followup to Trevorrow's 2015 smash hit, Jurassic World. But on a trip to Cleveland last week, where The Book of Henry made its debut public screening, Trevorrow said that this was the film he was supposed to make earlier in his career.
"To me, it's a very natural follow-up to Safety Not Guaranteed," he said. "When I got offered Jurassic World, I thought if I could do that well, it would open up other opportunities in the future, and it did. One of them was to go back and make this film."
(Another one of those opportunities, of course, was being offered the chance to direct Star Wars, Episode IX. Trevorrow lives outside London now during production of that film, which is slated for release in 2019.) Trevorrow said that a common trajectory for talented young filmmakers these days — they make an indie darling and are then immediately tapped for a franchise installment — "robs audiences" of the films those directors might have made on their way up the ladder.
"If a boxed set of my films ever comes out," Trevorrow said, "you can put them in the right order [with Henry preceding Jurassic World]."
Trevorrow described Henry like the Grimms' fairy tales: "They deal with the fears and dangers of childhood and are extremely dark. They're also very sweet at times. It's just like this movie. At times, it can be very sweet. Then at other times, you're like, 'This is some dark shit.'"
That sweetness — and that darkness too — are enhanced by the performances of its child stars. Lieberher (from last year's Midnight Special) is joined by Jacob Tremblay (the runaway star from last year's Room) and Maddie Ziegler, the ballet wunderkind from the Sia music videos.
The script for the film is nearly 20 years old, but Trevorrow connected its themes to today's Hollywood climate. Speaking about the Star Wars universe and fans' intense relationship with it, he said, "There's this sense of nostalgia and of, 'Don't mess with my childhood. My childhood is valuable. My childhood matters to me.' And that inspired [Henry] in a lot of ways. I would hear that idea, that 'don't ruin my childhood,' so I thought, let's make a movie about what a ruined childhood really looks like."
And because its themes are so universal, so elemental, The Book of Henry is a movie, Trevorrow said, that "can and should appeal to people from all around America." And if they're not into the kids, there's always Naomi Watts singing a lullaby later performed by Stevie Nicks.