Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)
(15) Running time: 99 minutes
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
I have sat in the cinema and witnessed the trailer to Troy Nixey’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark many times, and I have seen people jump every-time at the scene involving the young girl Sally (Madison) crawling under her bed sheets and suddenly coming face to face with a sort of Goblin. Everyone in the cinema jumped, a good sign that the film may well deliver. Add to this the fact the film is based in a rather well designed old fashioned house with fantastic creepy surroundings, and even better, the fact Guillermo del Toro was involved in writing and producing, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark had a lot to live up to. To put even more pressure on the film, Del Toror admitted the reason he got involved is that the original made for TV movie from the 1970’s was one of the scariest things he had EVER seen on TV. So, Don’t be Afraid of the Dark arrives with already a lot to prove, and does it prove it?
Well, in some ways it does and in some ways it doesn’t. The film opens with a superbly creepy and eventually graphically nasty scene where owner of Blackwood Mansion allows a maid to come down the stairs to the darkly lite basement. He has put a trip wire on the stairs and she falls, landing on her back and Mr Blackwoods then proceeds to sit on top of her and remove her teeth in a rather painful and unsettling scene. It is graphic and superbly nasty, and sets up the film with tons of promise as voices whisper in Mr Blackwoods ears and he delivers the teeth to feed some unseen creatures who live underneath the basement. I was impressed, the opening scene had me hooked and thoughts of a good old fashioned, authentic and classic horror suddenly washed over me, and a huge feeling of excitement kicked in. I love old fashioned horrors with creepy house settings, and all of a sudden I feel like I’m there again.
Many many years later, the massive Blackwood mansion is being renovated by Alex Hirst (Pearce) and Kim ( Holmes). Alex has split from his wife, and with his new girlfriend, has embarked on a project to “do up” Blackwood mansion and sell it on for a substantial profit. He has poured all his savings into this, and as they are living in the house, this project has become their main job. He organises meetings and dinners to promote the house in order to sell it, it is clear he feels he can make a profit and the pair are massively focused on the renovations. Enter young Sally (Madison), Alex’s daughter who is going through some serious issues. Her Mother is putting her on all sorts of medication, and when she arrives with her Dad she is less than pleased to find out it is not just a holiday. The family tragedy scenes are very powerful, and Madison handles the difficult role very well indeed. As for Pearce as Alex, I like him a lot as an actor and actually found myself liking the film more based on the fact her was in it. Holmes also does a superb job as the awkward step-Mother to a new daughter with some serious mental health issues. Sally is uncomfortable and scared, and wants to be back home with her Mum, until she explores the grounds of the house. She discovers a room not yet found by her Dad, a large underground room which the grounds keeper seems to want to keep hidden…
Alex gives in to his daughter and smashes down a wall to get to this hidden room, and here is where the trouble starts. The small, Goblin like creatures live under a fireplace and start whispering to Sally to set them free, and eventually she does. A curious child will always do what they shouldn’t, and Sally lets these creatures out and things take a turn for the worse. While her Dad and step-mum carry on with the house, Sally is being tormented by these creatures and feels alone since her and Kim did not get off to the best of starts. The film now moves into the cliched area of child suffering and parent not believing her, and in a way it works well. Kim begins to understand and even though does not believe in these creatures, is willing to understand Sally in order to help protect her. Alex, bless him, is clueless and is more focused on selling the house. Even when his gardener and house keeper is violently attacked by these creatures, he barely takes notice. The family break down in this film works wonders, with Kim and Sally eventually seeing eye to eye but with events getting in the way, and poor old Alex just not getting it at all. There are heartfelt moments, sad moments and scenes that will anger and irritate, but the whole trauma and emotion of the family members are captured and realised very well indeed.
The setting is also a massive bonus for this film. The house is superb, creepy and old fashioned, you can almost smell the dust and feel the coldness. The surrounding grounds are also expertly designed and give a real feeling of authentic and creepy horror. The music carries the scenes well, and there is very little filler in the plot. However, this film fails and fails badly on a number of aspects. In what was supposed to be a real scare fest harking back to the good old days of horror, the film tries too hard and becomes silly and almost childish. Sadly, and regrettably, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark proves why horrors from the 70’s should stay there,it proves why many of the stories from that decade would not scare now if they were remade. Horrors from the 70’s work because of the era they were invented in, but for todays horror market, this film at least, does not deliver. There are barely any scares of note, the atmosphere feels forced, and the actual creatures themselves come across as playful small monkeys that barely raise an eyebrow. I really don’t want to come across as being harsh , but the creatures were the most weak aspect of the entire film. I love monsters in horror, but these little critters just did not do it for me at all. Their whispering is a little creepy to begin with, but become irritating after ten minutes. They do not conjure up feelings of fear or dread, even when they are brandishing switchblades, as they are simply too small. The CGI is also too good, and it removes any impact these creatures should have had. Simply, they just do not scare, and eventually become rather silly. Todays horror market want more than this, and this is why Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark did so well in the seventies and won’t do well today, we have moved on and need more these days.
The critters don’t scare, but also the actors, who handle the disrupted families so well, seem to struggle to deal with acting scared around creatures that are not there and will be added after. Madison struggles more than anyone with here eyes not even looking in the direction of the creatures at times. Guy Pearce feels out of his depth, more suited to a more realistic film than this horrific tour de force. The film just feels wrong, and even when the gardener and keeper of the grounds is horrifically mutilated, it feels forced and fake. It should have unsettled and disgusted, but it doesn’t, and that is this films major flaw. It should, and could have been perfect, brilliant even, but it isn’t, it is missing something, something very special and something that should make it stand out. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark feels like a painfully wasted opportunity, a film which has lost any power, and for Del Toror to have this as a homage to his favourite TV film, he must be sorely embarrassed. What a shame.
You can also check out ‘The Hughes Verdict’ here
[pt-filmtitle]Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)[/pt-filmtitle]