Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

A young girl moves into a Rhode Island mansion that her father and his girlfriend intend to renovate and resell. But wouldn’t you know it, the 19th century house is infested by some nasty little monsters. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a remake of the 1973 ABC made-for-TV horror film of the same name and not the more well known anthology series “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” that first aired on Nickelodeon in the 90s. Dated old school flick has some style, but the drama suffers from a mundane storyline.

The biggest problem is just that this tale isn’t very frightening. While there are a few bursts of violence scattered throughout the picture, the R rating is perplexing.  Aimed at kids, the script relies more on the kinds of things a toddler would find fearful, like weird looking goblins, than in building genuine suspense. The creatures like to talk in exaggerated whispers. At first their appearance and voices are subtle and hard to make out, but then their dialogue grows more and more distinct and their appearances, more aggressive. The longer you see them, the less interesting they become. They scare at predictable points and don’t terrify like they should. After a while, they’re kind of hokey until matters get almost laughable. They can’t even function in the light so dealing with them seems pretty obvious to the audience. Unfortunately the characters don’t behave with much intelligence.

There are too many times in the film where you’ll be shouting at the screen because of the stupidity of the cast. At one point, little Sally is taking a bath when the creatures turn off the light switch in the bathroom. She chooses to remain in the tub shivering when she could have simply turned it back on to make them go away. One stupid cliché after another piles up until the narrative buckles under a pile of ridiculousness. Like one of those B movies made in the 50s where none of the adults will believe the knowledgeable child trying to warn them. Why won’t her parents listen?  The handyman ends up in the hospital after he is beaten within an inch of his life by the beasts. The father dismisses it as an accident. Huh? Finally the little girl has the good sense to take a photo of one of the creatures for her father. She holds the picture in his face and he pushes it aside saying “Not right now honey.” C’mon, seriously?!

Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce are acceptable, but unmemorable. Their performances never really register beyond anything more than actors for hire. Even young Bailee Madison who plays daughter Sally is too sullen and depressed to engage the viewer. She has the lion’s share of the acting, however, and she admirably outshines her much more experienced co-stars.

In the end, the failure can be attributed to the fact that the action just isn’t scary. The formulaic plot actually drags in parts. The conventional nature is rather surprising given this was written and produced by Guillermo del Toro of Hellboy and Pan‘s Labyrinth fame. Things haven’t been going well for the talented auteur as of late. He resigned from directing the two movies based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit last year. Then the release of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was delayed from January to August due to Disney’s sale of Miramax, the film’s beleaguered distributor. What can you say when the most frightening shock was already revealed in the trailer? Give credit to the brilliant editors that cut that prevue. It does an impressive job of making the picture appear like an inspired work of terror and excitement. Too bad it wasn’t.

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5 Responses to “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”

  1. Thanks to your review that makes us not have to rush out to see it. I had no idea about all the background of the film either.

  2. sir jordan Says:

    The best scene by far is the prologue. It creates an amazing amount of tension and atmosphere that the rest of the film is unable to live up to.

  3. Damn, I kinda wanted this to be good; don’t know why, so it’s a bummer that there’s pretty much nothing of value here.

  4. I had such high hopes for this movie. Love Guillermo’s movies and the preview looked great. Too bad it was just ok. It had so much potential, but they had to go and make the characters unrealistic.

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