Review: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

I am going to start off this entry with a bold statement that will sure to attract the attention of cinema snobs all over – horror films simply don’t exist anymore. You can argue the finer points of some lesser-known foreign masterpiece all you want. But deep down in your heart, you know you weren’t actually scared when you watched [Rec] or Martyrs. Not like you were when you saw Jaws for the first time. No matter how much we love to watch teenagers (or anyone really) get destroyed on screen, there hasn’t been a film in a while that really connects us with the characters to have us even care in the first place.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark could have been a contender. You have Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) co-scripting with Matthew Robbins (*batteries not included). del Toro’s resume is pretty solid, despite being sprinkled with some real stinkers (Mimic, Blade 2). He claims to have been inspired to write this film at a young age by a television movie of the same name (1973’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark directed by John Newland).

This new version contains a similar concept. A couple (Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes) move into a creepy old house in an attempt to fix it up and become well-known amongst the architectural community the world over. Alex (Pearce) also brings his daughter-from-another-mother into the mix. Sally (Bailee Madison) is exactly what the creatures living under the house need to survive.

Wait, did I forgot to mention that?

Yes, we learn during the epilogue that there are some mischievous little creatures living inside a creepy old stove in a hidden basement of the house. They want one thing and one thing only — children’s teeth. That is only thing they like to eat (and they don’t want adult teeth either, as one poor chap learns the hard way).

Before They Gets the Holes Again (9/2011)

Once these creatures smell Sally’s presence, they stop at nothing to try and get her to go down into the stove with them. They speak pretty good English for being creatures of the unknown, but they all speak together as one when they do.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark suffers most from its almost unbearable pacing. Director Troy Nixey takes the long road to build up the inevitable climax-in-the-basement. At 99 minutes, it would seem impossible for this film to feel that long.There are a lot of moments here where not too much happens by way of plot. Who cares what magazine is coming to the house to do a cover story? The film spends so much time focusing on the architect angle at times, that we sometimes forget about the creatures in the basement surviving only on children’s teeth. We want to see a movie about them. Maybe that’s what the sequel will be about.

When things happen to Sally, like when the creatures raid her bedroom at night, it all happens so quickly that you have no time to creep yourself out. Sure, some of these moments are pretty awesome (the bathtub sequence in particular), but there aren’t enough of them. The only thing consistently scary throughout is some of the acting. While Bailee Madison does a great job of playing a kid too terrified to sleep with the lights off, Holmes’ droopy and robotic performance steals the show.

Author: Michael Ferraro

I used to draw pictures. Then inspiration fled. Sometimes I make short films.

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