Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
Guillermo Del Toro is rapidly becoming a favorite filmmaker by both critics and fanboys alike. He's the genius director behind such incredible fantasy horror movies like Pan's Labyrinth, The Devil's Backbone and Cronos. He's also the genius director behind such incredible comic book actions like Hellboy and Blade II. But sadly, he didn't direct Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.
Del Toro produced this movie. That doesn't give it a death sentence at all. In fact, just the opposite. He's done that with cinematic awesomeness like The Orphanage and Biutiful. He's even gotten involved in animation movies like Kung Fu Panda 2 and Megamind. But something went wrong with this film. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark starts off as scary, then becomes creepy, and ends up being silly.
It's really too bad because the film, which is based on a made-for-TV film from 1973, is a classic gothic creature-feature horror film. It's about a family that moves into a gorgeous old mansion only to discover that it was already inhabited by another group...blood-thirsty little fiends that crave little children's body parts. Wow! Just typing that out makes it sound so much better than it actually is. It's far tamer from the gruesome premise seems to be. But it's not so much the plot running out of steam that makes this film so lackluster; it's also the performances.
Katie Holmes (Batman Begins, Tom Cruise's bedroom) and Guy Pearce (The King's Speech, Memento) are the couple who fight off the amassing goblins. Both are fine actors and have performed well in the past, epecially Pearce; but in this they walk through the script like they both are in dress rehearsals. The shining star of the film is the daughter played by the young Bailee Madison. She carries this entire movie on her back with a fantastic performance. She's also the little girl in Brothers and the only funny thing about the Adam Sandler movie Just Go With It.
With Don't Be Afraid of the Dark she really gets a chance to show us what she's got though. She's undoubtedly the star of the film and looks legitimately terrified of the little beasties that are after her. What impressed me even more is that she had to act that way while looking at nothing since all the monsters were CGI. Another disappointment since Del Toro is known for using mostly old school movie monster make-up and puppets.
That undersells the quality of the creatures though. The FX used for them are very, very well done. They do look real and give you the heebie-jeebies in many of the scenes that prey on your fear of the dark and what's under the covers. But just when you're thinking that they are a force to be scared of, they turn into some kind of comedic monsters you'd expect to see in Jim Henson's Labyrinth. That decision might have been the fault of first-time director Troy Nixey. I'm not going to say that he's in over his head though since the film stinks of gothic horror in that it boasts incredible sets and heavy atmosphere that invokes a 1920s Hammer Film feel.
It's a big red flag that this movie was not going to live up to the A+ trailer that was released over a year ago because that's when the film was shot. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark was filmed early in 2010 and went through lots and lots of post production work to make it presentable. I guess it should have been put through a little more work since it isn't scary. But maybe that's just truth in advertising - there really isn't any reason to be afraid of the dark in this film.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C