In 1973 a made-for-TV movie scared and inspired future cretin creator Guillermo del Toro so much that it’s stuck with him for nearly forty years. And after much hype and plenty of creepy commercials, the del Toro-produced and co-written remake of ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ lives up to most of the manufactured anticipation quite nicely.
Sally Hurst, played by the exceptional Bailee Madison, is as reclusive as they come, especially after moving in with her father (Guy Pearce) and his young and dashing girlfriend (Katie Holmes). The enormous estate this newly constructed family calls home has its fair share of evil and secrets, the biggest one being the fact that the original owner vanished without a trace.
Upon opening an ancient gateway to the home’s hellish past, Sally lets loose a horde of truly vile ankle biting hellions. Of course, it’s only fitting that Sally, the youngest and least reliable member of the household, discovers them first. And therein provides the film’s main tension as the formulaic haunted house recipe holds true when she must make the adults realize that monsters really do exist.
The things that work best in this film are the things del Toro has made a living creating – fantastic creatures, dark fairytale horror, and gothic and scary atmosphere. I will be the first to admit my embarrassingly unabashed love for del Toro and his creatures. The hellions in ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ are truly awesome – ugly, creepy as hell, and downright evil.
There’s a simple formula for a haunted house film. Del Toro and director Troy Nixey follow this standardized recipe through to the last second of the movie. Not necessarily a bad thing in this case, but it does lead to a few jaunts down some very well-worn paths in horror cinema history.
Every haunted house movie should have a child in it capable of creeping out the audience and Bailee Madison is just that. She’s superb as the soft spoken victim stuck in the middle of her parents’ divorce and the little bastards asking to be her friend in the boarded up basement below her bedroom.
The adult leads, Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce, fill the “naive parents/victims” role quite well too. Unfortunately, this means the characters are also more than a bit frustrating. I wasn’t the only one in the theatre who groaned during some of the countless “you’re going to do exactly what you’re not supposed to do” moments in the film. Danger is clear and imminent from the start. These well-developed-but-painfully-stupid characters do just about everything I WOULDN’T do in a situation like the one they find themselves in. They also never do the one thing I WOULD do: GET THE FUCK OUT OF THAT HOUSE!
‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ is a solid, haunting thriller. While there aren’t a ton of jump-out-of-your-seat moments, Del Toro and Nixey construct a fantastic haunted house and add enough depth to their characters and a dark-enough atmosphere to the home to successfully keep the heebie-jeebies crawling. There’s more than enough of del Toro’s creepy charm to keep you chomping on the popcorn and enjoying this one from start to finish.