By Ruth Kinane
April 25, 2017 at 09:00 AM EDT
Alison Cohen Rosa / Focus Features
  • Movie

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They say never work with animals or children, but The Book of Henry director Colin Trevorrow is here to prove the naysayers wrong — dinosaurs count as animals, right?

The Book of Henry is the tale told between two suburban houses that sees a single mother, Susan (Naomi Watts), take up arms when her 11-year-old genius son Henry (Midnight Special’s Jaeden Lieberher) concocts a plan to right the wrongs that have befallen the troubled girl next door, played by Maddie Ziegler (Dance Moms and most of Sia’s recent music videos). “It’s about how our reactions to life’s worst parts define us,” says Trevorrow who most recently directed box office stomper Jurassic World. “I read it before I was offered Jurassic World and I knew I had to do it. I just share its values: I believe that we have a responsibility to take care of each other and that the best of us inspires others and guides them through the darkness. It was very important to me to make a movie like this now because we’re living in very divided times.”

From dinosaur theme parks to suburban neighborhoods, Trevorrow always puts story telling at the forefront, regardless of the movie’s scale. “This was actually a harder movie to make for me,” he says. “It was the kind of story that I’d never seen before and I really wanted to do something new. It’s much easier to deal with a $200 million budget and steak and lobster for lunch than it is to find the kinds of emotions that this movie deals with.”

It might be Henry’s name in the movie’s title, but Trevorrow says it’s really Susan’s story, and that he was fortunate to cast his favorite actress in the role. “It’s her character’s journey as she accepts the responsibility of what it is to be an adult,” he explains. “Naomi responded so well to the character and the story that it gave me a lot of assurance that it was the right story to tell. Her character feels the kind of anger that we’re all very familiar with right now. The world is on fire and we feel helpless as these tragedies play out around us. We feel like we have to fight against that natural human instinct to use violence to right horrible wrongs and yet she knows deep down something has to be done.”

Watt wasn’t the only actress that impressed the director. Despite it being her first part in a movie, Ziegler took up her role as Christina with ease. “She really is extraordinarily capable,” he says. “She’s able to do something that Naomi does as well: She finds whatever emotion she needs to dial in very quickly. No one taught her how to do that she just knows. Jaeden is the same way. All three of these kids were really extraordinary in the movie.” Everyone’s favorite child actor/award show speechmaker, Jacob Tremblay, also stars in the film. “I hadn’t seen Room when I cast him and he turned into a movie star while we were making the film which was a fun journey for us all to go on. He’s just a great actor with great instincts.”

Placing those talented — and cute — kids in peril keeps audiences on edge of their seats and tears throughout the film. Part suspense-thriller, part emotional-whirlwind, the movie walks a tightrope of tone. “I was wiped out at the end,” says the director of the filmmaking experience. “It turns into a suspense thriller, but you very well might have a good cry in this movie.”

It may be a smaller story than Trevorrow’s dino epic but it still feels like big summer entertainment. “Not all mythic stories have to span kingdoms and galaxies,” he says. “They can happen in your own backyard.”

The Book of Henry

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 105 minutes
  • Colin Trevorrow