Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark review

A classic slice of TV horror gets a big-screen remake courtesy of co-writer Guillermo del Toro and director Troy Nixey. Here’s Ron’s review of a very creepy film…

From sunny California comes Sally, the troubled, ADHD-rattled daughter of Alex (Guy Pearce), a brilliant architect and home restoration expert. Alex has taken on his most challenging project to date – the long-abandoned, crumbling mansion of one Emerson Blackwood, a renowned artist, architect and man of creativity, who disappeared one day under mysterious circumstances.

This fact does not deter Alex, who sinks every penny he has into the home to buy it, restore it to its original state, and hopefully get on the cover of Architectural Digest, and sell the house on for millions of dollars. Good luck in this economy.

Meanwhile, all is not well in Sally’s life. First, her parents are divorced, and worse yet, Dad’s got a cute new girlfriend named Kim (Katie Holmes), who is an interior decorator. Kim’s official capacity is to help Alan redecorate the house, and restore all its awesome old paintings and whatnot. Of course, with all old houses, there’s a reason they’re abandoned, and that reason is probably why Emerson Blackwood disappeared over a hundred years ago.

As it turns out, the house has a terrible infestation, and it’s not rats or roaches or bedbugs. What it is I cannot say, but I can tell you what it wants. It wants teeth. Specifically, children’s teeth. Unfortunately for Sally, she’s a child. You see where this is going, don’t you?

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Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark started life as a television movie from 1973, which was shown on ABC and later syndicated to pretty much everywhere. Guillermo del Toro saw the original film as a child, and it scared him so much it apparently stuck with him to this day, and now he’s got the power to rewrite Nigel McKeand’s old script with collaborator Matthew Robbins (who wrote Mimic, del Toro’s English language debut). The major change seems to be that Sally is now a little girl, rather than Alex’s wife, and the script is much stronger for that. Kids are creepy, and kids in peril are even creepier.

While Guillermo del Toro only wrote this screenplay, and handed it off to newcomer Troy Nixey to direct, Nixey has obviously been drinking the del Toro Kool-Aid. Nixey is a comic book artist by trade, so he’s got a great feel for constructing artistic visuals, and he does a wonderful job with the old mansion where Sally, Kim, and Alex are staying. This thing looks incredible, and more importantly, Nixey makes incredible use of this place. It’s probably the movie’s third most important character, after Sally and Kim. The place just comes alive, looking both beautiful and dreadful by turns. Nixey does a great job of establishing atmosphere, and it’s a huge credit to the set designers and everyone else for bringing the place to life.

Another boon is the presence of Bailee Madison. Kids in movies can be problematic, but this kid is quite brilliant. Young Bailee is a great young actress, and she plays the role of the smart but neurotic Sally perfectly. Normally, there’s a moment or two when a kid’s immaturity shows through, but this girl is really good. Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes make a good on-screen couple, and I think that Katie’s acting has improved greatly since she’s become a mother and done a stint on Broadway. She was terrible in Batman Begins; she’s much improved now.

Still, while the movie starts off brilliantly, the more we see of the creatures, the less disturbing they are. Don’t get me wrong – the creatures themselves look great, but they’re just too… visible. I think the movie’s one major flaw is that the creatures are shown too early on. I’d like to see less of them, so that when we get those few big reveals, they’re more effective. Once they start showing up everywhere, the movie loses its sense of dread, and becomes more of a standard horror show.

That’s the problem with CGI. It makes things too easy, and it allows directors to show too much, in direct violation of the old adage, “less is more.” These creatures look great, but that’s not really the point. The known is never as scary as the unknown.

This is a shame because, when we don’t see the things as they skitter around in the basement, they’re never less than terrifying.

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US Correspondent Ron Hogan would love to live in a giant Gothic monster house, even if it is invested with unmentionable creatures. Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness, and daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.


4 out of 5