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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (A Movie Review)

Updated: 6 days ago

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark


Starring Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Bailee Madison, Jack Thompson, Julia Blake, Nicholas Bell, Garry McDonald, Edwina Ritchard and the voice of Guillermo del Toro.

Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins.

Directed by Troy Nixey.

Distributed by FilmDistrict.  99 minutes.  Rated R.

Who knew that there was such a Hollywood goldmine in the film catalogue of Kim Darby?

First, last year The Coen Brothers resurrected her acknowledged masterpiece, earning Hailee Steinfeld an Oscar nomination playing Darby’s role of Mattie Ross in True Grit.  (Though, granted, that original film also co-starred some guy named John Wayne who may have lent some of the classic status to the film.)

Now Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) is sniffing around a lesser-known corner of her CV, although Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark does have a serious cult following.  Originally a made-for-TV movie from the early 70s (back when made-for-TV was seriously edgier than the Lifetime movies you see today), the movie was spooky and atmospheric and hasn’t aged all that badly, despite its low budget and archaic special effects.

But is it necessary for a film remake?

Perhaps not, however the new film is rather entertaining on its own merits.  Apparently the TV film was a childhood favorite of del Toro’s and he has been working to get this screenplay made for over a decade (del Toro is co-writer, producer and even contributes some voice-over work in the film, but he did not direct the film, leaving that duty to graphic novel artist Troy Nixey).

The new Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is actually surprisingly faithful to the original, with one major difference – and a change for the better, I believe.  In the original, the haunted was a grown woman.  Here it was changed to an nine-year-old girl, which opens up the realism of the possibility significantly at the same time as majorly ramping up the danger quotient.

Otherwise, the film is bigger and more gothic, but a very similar story.

Alex (Guy Pearce) and Kim (Katie Holmes) are a young professional couple who make a living renovating and flipping old mansions.  They have sunk all their funds into an old decaying homestead – known as the Blackthorn Manor – which belonged to a famous scientist before his mysterious disappearance, and that of his son.

Alex brings his nine-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, Sally (Bailee Madison), to live with them as they fix the home up.  They quickly find a hidden basement and Sally is intrigued by the old place.  Then she starts hearing little murmuring voices calling to her.  Then she makes the mistake of opening a boarded up old fireplace and things start to move around her.  She eventually realizes that she is surrounded by thousands of tiny creatures who want to destroy her.

Unfortunately, her dad is too involved in his spiraling business to listen.  And the girlfriend, who Sally shunned upon meeting, is having trouble believing all the stories, too, though she does believe that Sally is scared of something.

This leads to a fight for the soul of the house as Sally (and eventually her guardians) tries to escape the evil minions that have set their sights on her.

These are tricky waters for a filmmaker to swim in – the little homunculi (the demon creatures after Sally) could either be scary or could be a little ridiculous looking, depending all on the art direction and story-telling technique.

Also, the basic storyline has a bit of an outdated feel.  In fact, the film is sometimes willfully old-fashioned.  For example, there is a long sequence where the little girl keeps the creatures at bay by using the flash of a Polaroid camera to startle them with its bright light.  This leads the audience to wonder: 1) who still uses Polaroid cameras? and 2) why didn’t the flash bar she was using – which had just five bulbs – ever run out?

Still, it is quite obvious that del Toro loves the story and is passionate about telling about it.  Therefore, even if it is not necessarily the filmmaker’s finest work on the nightmare idea of children in danger to the supernatural – Pan’s Labyrinth is certainly a better movie and The Orphanage also gives this film a run for its money – there is a chilling and fascinating imaginary world on display here.  For old-school genre chills, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark mostly delivers the goods.

Ken Sharp

Copyright ©2011 All rights reserved. Posted: August 26, 2011.


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