Making a horror film for kids isn’t an easy task. Trying to keep it scary enough that it isn’t boring but not so scary that parents have to deal with kids’ nightmares is a hard balance to achieve. Based on a series of children’s books, Nelly Rapp: Monster Agent (Nelly Rapp – Monsteragent), a Swedish mix of Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the latest film to make the attempt. Can director Amanda Adolfsson and writer Sofie Forsman make it work?
We first see ten-year-old Nelly (Matilda Gross) performing a one-girl play for her classmates, complete with monster and ketchup packet blood. This prompts her harried father Lennart (Jens Ohlin, The Cake General) to suggest that she at least try to act normal.
Nelly and her Bassett Hound London are promptly dropped off at her Uncle Hannibal’s (Johan Rheborg, Kenny Starfighter) for school break. It isn’t long before she notices chained and hooded figures being dragged to the basement at night.
Nelly Rapp: Monster Agent has a lot going for it. Nelly makes a good heroine and, a rarity for characters like hers, she didn’t get on my nerves. The script does a good job of not making her too cutesy, wiseass, smart beyond her years or any of the usual cliches we get with pint-sized protagonists.
Hannibal, his mansion and his assistant Lena-Sleva (Marianne Mörck) all have their secrets, we can tell that right from the start, and so can Nelly. The answers to these questions are remarkably simple. Hannibal, like her mysteriously vanished mother, is a Monster Agent. They maintain the peace between humans and monsters and deal with those who get out of line. And there seems to be an unusually high number of those lately.
Nelly Rapp: Monster Agent has all the expected plot developments for a film like this. Nelly discovers the house’s secret chambers and her family’s heritage. Lena-Sleva and Nelly want to begin her training, Hannibal says she’s too young. Nelly sets out to prove herself and uncovers more secrets, not just of the monsters, but some of the Monster Agents themselves.
It’s all neatly done, with enough going on to keep things from becoming dull. And the scenes of Nelly in the dark forest should get the little ones excited without being too scared. And Nelly Rapp: Monster Agent doesn’t actually have that much in the way of horror.
Unsurprisingly we eventually find out that most of the monsters are more friendly than they appear. The real threat may be from other humans, something older viewers will pick up on quickly. The very Aryan-looking Vincent (Björn Gustafsson, Becoming Astrid, Kung Fury) rallying the gathered Monster Agents looks like a cross between a Nazi rally and a televangelist exhorting the faithful to send him money for a new mansion.
Unfortunately, Nelly Rapp: Monster Agent undercuts its own message of tolerance and not judging by appearance with some use of stereotypes, although I don’t suppose too many kids will get it when the vampire asks if anyone has heard of The Sisters of Mercy. That’s aimed at old goths like myself. It also feels at times like it’s pushing a message of conformity rather than acceptance.
Nelly’s father wants her to act like her classmates, she’s told that to be a good agent you have to look and act like everyone else. And if a monster wants to avoid trouble it has to act human. And that includes not being seen by humans if they look different. Thankfully in the final act, it seems to step away from this somewhat, but I still found it a bit off.
Apart from that Nelly Rapp: Monster Agent is an enjoyable film that should keep kids too young for Monster Squad or Let Us In amused and not be painful for any adults watching with them. Nelly Rapp: Monster Agent just finished its festival run at this year’s Brooklyn Horror Film Festival and is currently available to stream via Janson Media.