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It's not too late to see a film about a happy little elf." In those sentences lies the key to the success of the Lemony Snicket books. Most children's authors promote vitality, warmth and Day-Glo upspeak; he, however, offers darkness and anxiety.
His characters inhabit the same cruel and morbid universe that casts its shadow over the short stories of Saki or the illustrator Edward Gorey.
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Meryl Streep, almost as unhinged here as she was in Adaptation, has a ball as the grammar-loving Aunt Josephine, who seems at one point to have killed herself. As is the scene in which Olaf strikes Klaus with such force that he hits the floor.
As is the scene in which a snake seems to maul one of the children.
Even its look, developed by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and production designer Rick Heinrichs, is hugely stylised and based on the sleek gothic textures that they contrived for the film this most resembles: Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow (1999).
That's not to say that Unfortunate Events is unremittingly grim.