12 October 2011


Since hitching himself to runaway, studio-worrying properties such as The Hobbit and At The Mountains Of Madness, Guillermo Del Toro hasn't been in the director's chair for a while. His first film since 2008's Hellboy II- The Golden Army is Pacific Rim, which isn't due out for another couple of years, but he remains one of the most consistently hard-working filmmakers today, just for the sheer volume of projects he's attached to in some way or another.

Amongst his numerous horror movie projects, he provided the screenplay for Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark, a remake of a 1970s TV movie that has a cult following, and an outspoken appreciation from directors of a certain age, including del Toro himself. The film is about Sally, a young girl who goes to live with her estranged dad and his new girlfriend in a house that the couple are restoring. The discovery of a hidden basement unleashes a whole bunch of mythical creatures that have been languishing in a sealed fireplace, and they want Sally all to themselves.

The greatest strength of this remake lies with its leading ladies, in accordance with the feminist undertones of the original. A film like this hinges on how Sally is performed, and Bailee Madison is really very good in the lead role. Terrorised by malicious gribblies that have a real knack for disguising themselves to the other inhabitants of the house, she gives a believable scared-shitless performance, while also making the character's angst and occasional resourcefulness credible too. Katie Holmes is also very good as Sally's potential stepmother, Kim, who credits Sally more than her own father does.

Guy Pearce's consternating role as Alex, Sally's father, speaks a lot of the script's main deficiency. Alex is the kind of dad who doesn't immediately kick down a door, to a locked room, with his screaming daughter inside, because he's spent a lot of money on the house. You get hints that Sally has previously had mental problems and emotional difficulties, but there's not enough of a sense of Alex's resentment in that respect- it just makes him look like another horror movie asshole who clamps his hands over his ears and goes la-la-la while everyone around him tries to point out that something is amiss.

There's a bit more of that relationship between Sally and Kim. In the beginning, Kim is doing her utmost to make friends with Sally, who's not having it, and their arc together is more satisfying. The gribblies serve the same function as the aliens in Super 8 and the robots in this Friday's Real Steel- they bring together and mend the ties between a parent and their child. Pearce's role is another in the mould of the fathers portrayed by Kyle Chandler or Hugh Jackman, but less well written. Additionally, both of those other movies were 12A movies.

The difference between a 12A certificate and Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark's 15 certificate is the difference between the film finding an appreciative audience, and being written off by older viewers. Sadly, it has been written off, because the 15 certificate puts it into an arena in which it does not belong. Apparently, the filmmakers were always aiming for a 12A-equivalent PG-13 with the American ratings board, but it got the harder R rating there too. Watching the film itself, it's clear where they crossed the line, with a number of gory moments that could have actually been scarier and less graphic if they were only inferred.

Troy Nixey, the film's director, doesn't deliver the scares necessary to appease an audience over 15 years of age, and the horror levels out at about the same level as certain episodes of Doctor Who, and Joe Dante's kid-friendly horror from last year, The Hole. Without those grisly moments, which tip the film into the 15 bracket, there's enough in here, with the creepy whispers and the clever creature design, to have made a stunning bit of entry-level horror. In fact, isn't that what the original TV movie was meant to be, for all of those who speak so highly of it?

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark is far more skittish than outright scary, and its unsuitability for younger audiences has understandably hurt the film's reception. It's Nixey's debut feature, and his work is distinctive enough that Del Toro's guiding hand doesn't divert, as much as it complements the film. There are problems that a lower certificate couldn't solve, like the rushed climax of the film, but on the whole, it has an engaging and enjoyably old-fashioned atmosphere. It might be worth watching with younger viewers on DVD, if you feel they can handle it, because unfortunately, those who might enjoy it most can't go to see it on the big screen.

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark, why not share your comments below? If you want to read my review of the other big release of the week, head over to Movie Reviews for my thoughts on Johnny English Reborn.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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