Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

17 Sep

Title: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Troy Nixey
Writers: Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins, based on the 1973 teleplay by Nigel McKeand
Starring: 
Bailee Madison, Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Alan Dale
MPAA Rating: 
R, violence and terror
Runtime: 
99 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 
58%

 

I actually had some high hopes for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, I really wanted this to be just a hard R-rated super spooky scare-fest of a movie to really get me frightened. Now, the main reason for my huge expectations was that Guillermo del Toro’s name was all over this film, he was a producer, a co-writer, he did some of the creature voices, it was just this huge passion project for him for a long time that he was really involved in through every single step of the way, and considering the master hasn’t directed a film since 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and won’t direct one again until 2013’s highly-anticipated Pacific Rim, I was really excited to see anything with such a huge involvement from the man.

And ultimately this was a good film, and first-time feature director Troy Nixey, who was handpicked by Mr. del Toro after he saw Mr. Nixey’s short Latchkey’s Lament, does a decent job at crafting this scary atmosphere that really offers up some nice chills from the very get-go, but as it progressed I thought this one felt a bit too generic and really didn’t get to match the heights of the original 1973 cult film. The problem I think this one had was, weird as it may sound, its rating. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing I love more than an R rating when its needed, and the films of Mr. del Toro usually need them and make the most of it, and when I first heard this film was getting that rating I got really psyched about the filmmakers being given that much creative freedom and thought it would mean some real scares. However, here’s my problem with the R rating in this film, the scares it warranted weren’t as effective for adults because by now we know all too well the clichés and methods of scares of the haunted house genre, but they would have been awesome for a slightly younger audience that wasn’t as familiar with them, but their exposure to this film is obviously limited by that rating.

The influence of Mr. del Toro is evident here, you have that vision of a fantastical universe with a fair share of scary undertones and all of it seen through the eyes of a child, stuff that resonates with his masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth and his excellent The Devil’s Backbone, in fact it has been said that he didn’t direct this one because it was too much like stuff he had done before. However, this is a film that I can see being seriously great with a direction as sure-handed as the one that could have been provided by Mr. del Toro. And even though, like I said, Mr. Nixey does a fine job at it, the stuff he brings to the table doesn’t amount to all that much, I mean, yes, there’s style, there’s some kooky imagination, it’s a very intense ride, but you can tell this is a guy that doesn’t really have the experience needed to craft the best atmosphere possible, no matter who he had guiding him all along, and haunted house movies are all about atmosphere.

Sally is the child in question, a nine-year-old who moves into the haunted house in question with her father and her father’s girlfriend. Obviously, these sort of movies also depend quite a lot on the young actors tapped to play the child in the haunted house, and Bailee Madison, the actress in charge of playing Sally, does an effective job here, she seems like an intelligent actress, embedding Sally with this sense of bravery that honestly helped this film a lot. Her father, Alex played by Guy Pearce, and her father’s girlfriend, Kim played very well by Katie Holmes, have purchased this old manor that they plan to restore and get on the cover of Architectural Digest and then sell at enough of a profit that they can restart Alex’s business. Of course the house happens to have been the source of an evil years before, as it’s explained in that sinister start to the movie that I talked about before that really made it out to seem that this film would be sincerely scary.

However, as amazing and spooky as that opening prologue of sorts may have been, after that the film takes on a more typical approach to the genre, and we’ll see Sally discovering this hidden basement, and hearing voices and then discovering the little monsters from which these voices came from. It’s cool that the screenplay accentuated quite a bit the fact that adults are quick to dismiss a child’s imagination going wild and imagining things, because a lot of the film’s best uses of tension comes from that, from knowing what Sally has seen and from being frustrated at how much the adults ignore her claims of it. It’s quite a bit of a disappointment, though, actually getting to see these creatures that were in the basement. This is one of those cases in which the scarier thing would have been to show very little at all and let our imaginations run wild and scare the crap out of us, because the little creatures don’t live up to the scares that we’re supposed to get because of them.

But this is a good film, I wanted it to be better because of the Guillermo del Toro connection, but as haunted house films go, this one is still very good, it gets us frustrated at the adults, it gets us feeling our inner child as we see Sally, and there are one or two scenes that stand out from the otherwise predictable pacing and really get to be quite scary (chief amongst them the scene in which Sally tries hiding under a bed sheet, you know the one). But, like I said, these scares would have worked much better on a younger audience that wouldn’t have been as aware of the familiar scares as we adults are, they’re the ones that would be affected by this film, and maybe even get inspired by them and grow up to the be the next Guillermo del Toro.

Grade: B

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