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Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)

  Tags: Bailee Madison, don't be afraid of the dark, Guillermo del Toro, Guy Pearce, Jack Thompson, Katie Holmes, kids, Miramax Films, nocturnal, remake, Tequila Gang, Troy Nixey

Your rating: None Average: 6.3 (11 votes)
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Troy Nixey
99 minutes
Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison, Jack Thompson

The original Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark came out in the era where TV movies were nothing to scoff at.  Dark (obviously), atmospheric, and straight up creepy, it’s a classic in its own right.  But when it comes to remakes, this obscure (to non-horror fans, anyway) title didn’t really jump out as something marketable to today’s audiences (and by the look of the box office returns, it apparently wasn’t).  Yet, with its gothic setting, solid visual flare, and strong ending, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark did the best thing we can expect from a remake in today’s horror genre.  It didn’t suck.

After moving into an old, New England mansion with her father, Alex (Guy Pearce), and his girlfriend, Kim (Katie Holmes…aka Joey Potter, for my fellow 90s teens), 9 year old Sally begins hearing voices calling out to her through the vents.  Not before long, she becomes the intended victim for a tribe of bone eating demons that live under the house, who conveniently have a penchant for children’s teeth.  Sick, right?  In typical horror fashion, no one believes her, and they all think she’s going crazy, even when Alex and Joey Potter’s cluelessness climbs to infuriating heights.

Though Guillermo del Toro didn’t direct the movie, his imprint is all over this thing, with the sensibilities of Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone firmly in place.  Because of this, and despite the fact that I’ve seen the teaser trailer constantly cause theater audiences to scream, there’s nothing particularly scary about Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Instead, director Troy Nixey stages extremely competent sequences, walking a fine line between atmosphere and comedy when it comes to the creature action, which somehow completely works.  Also, with its late autumn setting and imposing location, the film is just beautiful to look at. 

Okay, so I’m not gonna lie.  This is a weird friggin movie, dude.  It’s like if Ghoulies and The Boogens had a hot, sweaty night of passionate fuck time with The Innocents, and birthed a gothic tinged, big budget bastard child.  For that reason, there’s a lot of people who are going to despise every fiber of its being.  They’re not going to know that it’s perfectly acceptable to laugh at the over the top monster rampages, and even encouraged.   At the same time, it’s this quirkiness that’s also the reason why I love it.  It’s an unapologetic creature feature, but done with enough talent and care to lift it into the kind of legitimacy its demon predecessors could never obtain.  As a bizarre hybrid of classic haunted house movies and cheap, 80s trash, it just worked for me.

That being said, the film is far from without flaws.  The creatures worked so well when they were relegated to the shadows, with nothing but their glowing eyes protruding through the darkness.  But in a classic case of ‘too much, too soon’, the CG creatures are on full display earlier on, and loose a lot of their initial creep factor.  Dare I say, they even become kind of cute.  Joey Potter goes on a completely unneeded little detective trip to the library and discovers the truth behind what’s living beneath her house, just so the plot is completely idiot proofed for the viewer.  Scenes like this are so clichéd and undermine the viewer’s intelligence.  You know, a little ambiguity never hurt anyone…just saying.

As far as the acting goes, Guy Pearce is spot on as Alex.  While it’s not like he’s some unknown actor, I’m always surprised by the fact that he never really blew up and became a bigger household name.  Well, in America at least.  Joey Potter does a serviceable job as she walks through dark hallways with a concerned look on her face.  Though it’s nothing in comparison to her riveting performance when the gang was all stuck in Saturday detention, and she almost admitted to Dawson that she was in love with him while he was totally still into Jenn.  Stop pretending you don’t know what I’m talking about.  And while I’m not too fond of children as horror leads (unless they’re the killers or something, because let’s get real, all children are evil, spawn’s of Satan.), Bailee Madison, as Sally, definitely has some talent, having to carry the majority of the movie.

Even though the narrative is culled from different horror clichés, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark somehow works.  It’s not a movie for everyone, and might even strongly piss some people off, but it won me over with it’s well-crafted visual style, and truly bizarre alchemy of different sub-genres.

Posted on September 4, 2011 - 2:59pm | Johnny D