Dont Be Afraid Of The Dark—movie review

As you may already know, that modern master of Grand Guignol, Guillermo del Toro, saw the 1973 TV movie Don’t be Afraid of the Dark when he was a boy, and it scared the daylights out of him. He’s wanted to remake it ever since, and wrote a script with Matthew Robbins around the time he made his first American feature, Mimic (1997). Years went by, and when the pieces finally fell in place to put it into production he was busy with The Hobbit, so he selected newcomer Troy Nixey to fill his shoes after seeing an impressive short-subject he made. (The picture was finished two years ago but went into distributor limbo, from which it has just emerged, thanks to the newly-formed FilmDistrict.)

The results are definitely creepy, but less than perfect, because the story is built on—

—an all-too-familiar foundation that can be summed up in six words: get out of that damned house!

Young Bailee Madison, who’s neurotic, overmedicated, and feels unloved, is sent to live with her divorced father, Guy Pearce. He’s renovating a spooky old mansion with his girlfriend, Katie Holmes. As we (but they don’t) learn in a prologue, the house has a terrible history. It doesn’t take long for the little girl to hear strange voices, calling to her from a boarded-up basement, behind a furnace vent. The voices belong to monstrous little creatures who mean to overtake her as their latest “friend.”

The key decision in a film like this is how soon to reveal the monsters, and how clearly to show them. Usually the more you see them the less terrifying they get to be, although these rodent-like creatures remain pretty fearsome. But once the movie shows its hand and we know what we’re dealing with, the unexplainable actions of the two adults, who don’t respond as they should, and the victimization of the little girl become formulaic and the film loses much of its impetus.

Don’t be Afraid of the Dark knows it’s following a well-worn path and doesn’t shirk from it (the great Jack Thompson plays a caretaker who’s keeping secrets); that’s intended to be part of the fun. As a traditional genre piece, it’s not bad, and those creatures are vividly repulsive. If that’s enough to satisfy you, you’ll get what you came for.


  1. Jim Reinecke says:

    You’re right, Leonard, about this hoary old premise. . .and the totally unrealistic reactions of the characters. I always remember Eddie Murphy doing a monologue on “The Tonight Show” back in the ’80’s about this particular subject and asking the introductory question “Why are white people so dumb in the movies?” He went on to group THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, POLTERGEIST and THE EXORCIST (among others) and stated that the first time he heard “GET OUT!” he’d be turning to his wife and saying “Too bad we can’t stay here, baby!” And speaking of scary, for the first time in my life (and shame on me for waiting this long!) I saw Henri-Georges Clouzot’s original DIABOLIQUE this past week. . .Wow! For any of you out there who have an idiotic prejudice against black and white films or who loathe reading English subtitles, I can only say “Get over it!” This is one of the most genuinely chilling, upsetting and suspenseful movies that I’ve ever watched (and I had to watch it late at night right before bed, as well!) and I recommend it to any discerning film buff who loves having the living hell scared out of them!

  2. Sean says:

    You don’t seem to know what “Grand Guignol” is.

    Grand Guignol was a bloody, horror-expolitive type of theatre production that was popular in France in the early half of the 20th century. It was gory, excessive and often relied on the cheapest of thrills to shock an audience.

    Guillermo del Toro’s movies are rarely gory or excessive. If anything they are understated, and it’s the feeling they create that makes them unique (unlike the countless “horror” movies out there whose only aim is to shock audiences into submission).

  3. Bill says:

    I’ll consider seeing this film, but for some reason, I’m tending to think it will lack the suspense of the original TV movie.

  4. Jay says:

    How is Katie Holmes STILL making movies?? She really stinks as an actress. I have a hard time believing that anyone will want to see this movie, as soon as they hear that she is in it. If she wasn’t married to Tom Cruise, we wouldn’t be seeing or hearing about her at all, except perhaps in a lousy Lifetime movie. I predict this goes to video in less than a week.

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