Today: February 29, 2024

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark

Though Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is not directed by him, Guillermo del Toro’s presence is felt as much as the ghouls in the cellar.

Though Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is not directed by
him, Guillermo del Toro’s presence is felt as much as the ghouls in the cellar.

The story goes
that in 1973 a young Guillermo del Toro
saw a made for TV movie called Don’t Be
Afraid Of The Dark
. It haunted
him to such an extent that years later, having become something of a master of
chilling yet beautifully executed films like Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and The
Devil’s Backbone
(2001), he returned to the film to breathe new life into
it and give it the cinema outing he felt it warranted. The results may not send the shivers as
much as they did a young del Toro but Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is a worthy
entry into the cannon of macabre fairytales that the Mexican specialises
in.

Sally (Bailee Madison) is sent to live with
her father Alex (Guy Pearce) and his
young girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes). Moving into their new home Alex plans
on restoring the house to its former glory under original owner and renowned
nature artist Lord Blackwood.
Feeling alienated from her father and unsure about Kim, Sally finds a
basement in the house and begins to hear voices from within. Soon mysterious things begin to happen
and it seems that Blackwood may have been drawing more than just wildlife.

Del Toro is only
on writing and producing credits for this incarnation of Don’t Be Afraid Of The
Dark but it is unmistakably a del Toro film. Borrowing heavily from some of del Toro’s best work it
contains the fairytale element from Hellboy
II: The Golden Army
(2008), the dream like settings and aesthetics of Pan’s Labyrinth and the unsettling
gothic approach of The Orphanage
(2007) and The Devil’s Backbone. In other words this is a wonderfully
atmospheric affair.

Del Toro hired
director Trox Nixley after he saw his
short film Latchkey’s Lament (2007)
and Nixley certainly excels in his feature debut. The scares are less jumping out of your seat but more
shivers down your spine. The
constant whispering of the ghouls in the house and the shadows dancing on every
wall to toy with your sense of safety all add up to creepy effect.

Where the film
does fall short is in the plot department. Everything feels slightly formulaic. As if story and character are of
secondary importance to set-pieces.
Even the mystery at the heart of the film is unfortunately undermined by
a prologue that essentially spells it out as the work of evil little tooth
fairies. That’s right, if you’ve
seen Hellboy II there are definite parallels to be seen here with the crafty
little imps.

So we start with
everyone believing Sally is acting out against her new ‘mother’ while Guy
Pearce, with a slightly odd Tom Cruise
hair-cut (read into that what you will), mopes around as the doubting Thomas of
the piece. Then of course Sally,
being played with terrified gusto by Madison, is absent during an unfortunate
event making the confused looking Katie Holmes wonder if there is more to the
house than meets the eye. It feels
predictable. It is disappointing
considering del Toro, who wrote the script with his Mimic (1997) co-writer Matthew
Robbins
, is normally very astute at allowing room for character and plot to
develop at such a wonderful pace.
The result here feels slightly phoned in with a lack of emotion to the
resulting product.

Solid if
unspectacular Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark won’t result in you sleeping with the
light on but it might have you checking under the bed from time to time.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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