Don't Be Afraid of the Dark Review

Movie: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
By: Maniac E
Date: November 15, 2011

Not Afraid Of The Dark

There are two types of middle-aged people in the world: Those who didn’t see John Newland’s 1973 made-for-TV movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark when it aired, and those who did see it and were marked for life. Guillermo del Toro is in the latter group, having witnessed the spectacle of young housewife Kim Darby being seduced and terrified by hordes of miniature men who live in the bowels of the mansion she just moved into with her husband, Jim Hutton. Only she can see them, and we barely see them, even when they do things like peek out stealthily from flower arrangements or purloin various sharp household implements as part of their master plan for — well, never mind that for now. For years del Toro has been hoping to see the movie remade. Now his dream — or perhaps his own personal little nightmare — has come to life with Troy Nixey’s modernized version, which del Toro produced and co-wrote.

Haunted house movies are driven by the things that reside in the dark corners, both of the house and of our minds. The moody mansion of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark has plenty of those corners, and plenty of sharp-toothed beasties that lurk in them. Their target is a withdrawn little girl, Sally (Bailee Madison), who has just been sent to live with her father, Alex (Guy Pearce), and his girlfriend, Kim (Katie Homes). He's an architect, she's an interior designer, and they're restoring the old Blackwood mansion in the hopes of getting on the cover of Architectural Digest. But when they open up a hidden basement, they accidentally unleash the forces that did in the previous owner and his family decades earlier.

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These evil little pixies, whose odd craving for children's teeth is explained as a basis for tooth fairy mythology, become more and more brazen in their attempts to capture Sally, eventually growing into a constant onscreen presence during the latter portion of the film. The film's greatest weakness, in fact, may be that they're too present. Eventually, too little is left to the imagination to do what it does best: fill in the gaps with visions far more frightening than anything a filmmaker could put onscreen.

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Chalk that up to screenwriter and producer Guillermo del Toro's fascination with monsters, and how he and his design teams can take nightmares and make them concrete and palpable to an audience. That approach worked wonders for a film like del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, which relies on the believability of an intricate alternate reality, a fantasy underworld where elaborate and detailed creatures supported the story. There's no denying that his latest monsters are imaginative and detailed creations, but the haunted house-style story is hampered by his desire to show them off.

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Del Toro and Nixey’s version also features lots of whispering, but it’s often too direct, too scripted, to be truly scary. When Sally tearfully asks her tormentors the inevitable question, “What do you want?” they answer inevitably, “We want YOU.” As if they even needed to bother. This version is also hobbled by excess psychological padding: Del Toro seems to think it needs to be about the unspoken fears of childhood (a pet theme of his, and one that he has often handled beautifully, particularly in Pan’s Labyrinth), but here it just feels like the glass is half full type of thing. It doesn’t help that Madison’s Sally is a sullen, puddin’ faced child, not exactly charmless but hardly engaging, either. Del Toro has also manufactured a supposedly complicated stepmom relationship between Holmes and Madison that never quite clicks; Pearce is stuck playing the clueless, insensitive parent.

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Perhaps the biggest flaw of the movie is that almost nothing relevant happens for the majority of the run time. After the opening sequence, nothing happens for a solid hour. Then there’s one jump scare, and nothing happens for a while. There’s even a potentially scary scene in a bathtub, but because these creatures hardly ever do anything worth being scared of, it’s next to impossible to see them as a serious threat. That’s the main reason this movie is a fair disappointment of the year: squandered potential. With the talent involved here, this should have been a home run. But a lazy script and mediocre direction result in a movie that just doesn’t sustain interest.



Don't Be Afraid of the Dark


Don't Be Afraid of the Dark


Troy Nixey






Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison