Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is a new horror remake with Guillermo del Toro’s name used liberally on the marketing, following Juan Antonio Bayona’s excellent The Orphanage and Guillem Morales’ good Julia’s Eyes. It also has a good trailer, which made very clever use of the cinema’s surround sound. On top of this, from the opening shot it is clear that first-time feature film director Troy Nixey has seen Citizen Kane. Then, from the opening prologue it is initially clear that he has a fondness for Hammer horror films. So why isn’t Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark any good?
Sally (Bailee Madison) is a young girl, who has been sent by her mother to live with her father Alex (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes), while they are restoring an old Gothic house. The relationships between the three people are strained by Sally’s dislike of Kim. It isn’t long before Sally starts to hear voices in her room at night, voices that call her down to the basement.
First of all, one of the film’s major problems is that it is completely redundant. The concept of a child figuring everything out only to be ignored by a busy parent has become rather passé since the Goosebumps series. The film boils down to a collection of set pieces in which a bit more information is divined followed by an uninspired and rather lazy scare tactic and then an unbelieving parent. The calibre of the creative people behind it suggests there is some ironic winking going on and its all about nostalgia and reverence for the 1973 TV movie. However, a film with this much money and this much talent should do more than just hark back to something older.
Matters aren’t helped by the one-note characterizations. Bailee Madison is convincingly upset and confused by the family situation she finds herself in, but that element is dropped once the horror clichés start up. Katie Holmes is fairly bland in a fairly bland role, in which she has to look worried and sympathetic about Sally until she finally sees one of the creatures, in which case she’s worried and unsympathetic. Guy Pearce gets to play a slightly darker role as his workload starts to make him worryingly negligent, though this is only briefly explored once. The rest of the characters are merely archetypes like the old gardener who knows more than he’s letting on and the nice old maid who is always dependable.
The film does have fun with its creatures, though it does become increasingly difficult to work out how seriously we are intended to take them. The sight of them running around with razor blades is difficult to take, especially because the film itself is completely ambivalent about them. Where Pan’s Labyrinth managed to make its fairy tale creatures beautiful though otherworldly and threatening but always serious, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark vacillates awkwardly between the comedic and the grisly. Equally the film has an uncomfortable mix of strong violence and child-friendly horror. It is the kind of film that would work much better as a horror movie aimed at children, like Joe Dante’s thoroughly entertaining The Hole. As it is, it is a rather childish horror movie for over-15s.
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is a bungled film that is aimed at the wrong audience, dithers hopelessly on it’s tone and mood, fails to scare because of an adherence to horror clichés, offers no interesting characters to care about and has a messy ending to boot. A big disappointment when you consider the fact that it could have been another Drag Me To Hell.