Don't Be Afraid Of the Dark (2011)




Writer/Director/Producer/seemingly all around good dude, Guillermo Del Toro has really started to carve out a niche as the go to guy for child based fantasy horror. It's not a Tim Burton-esque niche either, dominated by laziness and annoying fan girls. On the contrary, what Del Toro has done, whether through his own films (The Devils Backbone, Pans Labyrinth), or other films he's been involved with either as a writer or producer (Orphan, this film) is really elevate and reinvigorate the genre.

"Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark" is no different. Essentially a remake of the 1972 made for TV movie of the same name. Del Toro and co-writer Mather Robbins (Dragon fuckin' Slayer!) have added layers of sub text that the original was lacking.  Del Toro and Robbins shift the protagonist of the film from an adult in the original to an 8 year old girl in their version. It's a huge change that puts the film right in Del Toros wheel house. Coupled with a great performance by relative newcomer Bailee Madison, it's this change that elevates the film above SyFy channel creature features.

Sally (Madison) is sent to live with her interior designer/home restorer father Alex (the universally underrated Guy Pierce) and his new girlfriend Kim (universally coquettish Katie Holmes) by her lazy mother. Paint-by-numbers family dynamics follow. Sally doesn't like Kim. Kim tries too hard for Sallys approval. Alex has no time for his daughter and does nothing but treat Kim like shit (a pet peeve here, it's lazy writing, if a character has no redeeming qualities why would anyone want to be with him?). Sally is sad...then she discovers the basement.

Covered up generations before by the current caretakers grandfather, once open, the basement and in particular, the fireplace calls to Sally. Not figuratively, it literally "calls" to Sally thought the vents of the house. Because no one else will pay attention to her, she listens. Once down in the basement, she removes the gate from the fire place, unleashing a hoard of evil fairy creatures to run amok through the house. Sally expresses her fears about the creatures but, of course, who believes the sad little girl in these films? Kim eventually comes to Sallys side, but it's too late. The creatures attack Sally, reeking their havoc at the most inopportune of times.

First time director Troy Nixey does an adequate job with a script that could overwhelm those less talented. Getting good performances out of children is never easy, but Nixey gets a borderline great performance out of Bailee Madison. The real weak acting link in the film is Holmes, who just comes off as uncomfortable and unsure of herself. Even in scenes where she is supposed to take control and kick the little creatures asses, she just doesn't have the gravitas to generate any believability.

Del Toro and Robbins flush out the back story of the creatures, giving them a Lovecraftian origin. Which should be no surprise since the one thing Del Toro may have more of a passion for than children in horror films is Lovecraft. That doesn't mean the back story works particularly well. Unfortunately, the creatures motives seem to change at various points in the film to suit the narrative. At one point the want childrens teeth for some reason, later there is a completely different mythology introduced to explain their motives.

"Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark" attempts to be many things - a haunted house film, a creepy kid film , a late 80's "creature" film, and it does all of these things rather well, but none of them extremely well. It's a good movie, has a couple decent jump scares, and the location gives the film a naturally creepy vibe. The film is entertaining if you don't think about it too hard,but Holmes performance plus some rather gaping plot holes leave this one short of being something special.

3 1/2 stars out of 5.

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