Review: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
PLOT: A young girl (Bailee Madison) is sent to live with her estranged father (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend (Katie Holmes) in a creepy old mansion infested with ancient, evil gremlins.
REVIEW: DONíT BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is a film that should have been good, by the mere fact that itís a horror film written and produced by the legendary Guillermo del Toro, who for my money, is one of the true genre visionaries currently working in film. His PANíS LABYRINTH was jaw-dropping and even his mainstream work, like HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY, is infused with a love of film and fantasy thatís spellbinding.
What went wrong? Plenty it seems, as DONíT BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is just another ho-hum horror flick, and not the late summer sleeper a lot of fans have been hoping for. I should note that, despite his name being prominently displayed on all the advertising, del Toro did not direct this film. Rather, itís from first-timer Troy Nixey.
The film starts out pretty well with a creepy opening scene set a few hundred years ago where an old English gentleman knocks out his maid, chisels out her teeth (yikes) and feeds them to the basement dwelling gremlins that stole his child. So far, so good. This opening is creepy, imaginatively shot and exciting, and promised that this would be a truly spooky horror ride.
Alas, that was not to be, as the film quickly went downhill from there. The biggest culprit here is the uneven, clichťd script, which offers viewers nothing they havenít seen a thousand times before (it should be noted, this is based on an old seventies TV flick). Typically for the genre, we get the troubled child protagonist, played here by Bailee Madison, whoís perfectly fine in the role. The disbelieving adults are played by Katie Holmes, whoís mediocre, and Guy Pearce, who unusually is downright bad here. That said, I hesitate to blame either Holmes or Pearce, both of whom have nothing to work with.
Itís especially annoying how, despite the wild, violent incidents around the house, the adults refuse to believe that their child is being terrorized by something more than paranoia, even after she manages to kill a gremlin. Grrrr. Especially ludicrous is when the creepy old caretaker (Jack Thompson) is attacked by the gremlins, and stabbed a dozen times in the back but they rationalize that it must have been an accident. Yeah right. He fell into a knife. Backwards. A dozen times. Grrr again.
Technically, the film is fairly polished, with the CGI being perfectly acceptable, and the dark cinematography moody and stylish (although it was butchered by the substandard projection of the theater I saw this in). I should also note that despite the R-rating, DONíT BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is very tame, and the rating is ludicrous. INSIDIOUS was ten times scarier at PG-13 than this is. Overall, DONíT BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is a lukewarm horror flick, and worth seeing only if youíre a hardcore del Toro completest. That said, thereís no way this sours me on the guy, as I truly believe heíll give us something special with the upcoming PACIFIC RIM. Heís got the talent, this just isnít the best showcase.