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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark Review

They say everyone is a critic and after everyone takes a trip to the local multiplex, if the experience was not to their liking, the favorite phrase of the inarticulate remains to be, “That was dumb,” and little more. Unfortunately despite a year of
build-up, which began a little over one year ago at last year’s Comic-Con, ample
talent behind and in front of the camera and a solid premise, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is just
that
dumb, silly, nonsensical (but don’t worry, I have much more to say).

Pursuing some gorgeous
opening credits, the inaugural flashback scene is abundantly sinister and at
times outright disturbing. Propelled then to present day, we meet our three
main protagonists: Alex (Guy Pearce), a greatly ambitious architect obsessed
with restoring a grand manor, Kim (Katie Holmes), Alex’s interior designer and
now serious girlfriend, and little Sally (Bailee Madison), Alex’s daughter from a
previous marriage who is unwillingly transplanted into her father’s life and his
all-encompassing labor of love. Soon after discovering a cavernous workshop
beneath the mansion which once belonged to the famed former owner Emerson
Blackwood, a force from beyond is released into the home taking an insidious
interest in young Sally.

Ever the optimist let me
begin with what “Dark” does well. Much of the film’s strengths lie within the
production values, atmosphere and set design (would we expect anything less
from a film godfathered by Guillermo Del Toro?) which create an extensively
detailed and otherworldly stage for the tale to unfold. Specific camera shots
are nothing short of stunning and the score is truly perfect for the style of
the movie. Surprisingly, the strongest of the bare-bones cast is Katie Holmes
who has both the best written character and also executes her character’s arc
very nicely. Pearce is fine but is given little to do except ignore his
daughter’s pleas for help, which brings us to newcomer Madison
a fine young
actress who has a ways to go but has the makings of a solid thesp.

This brings us down to
the nitty gritty of why Don’t Be Afraid
of the Dark
failed to live up to my generally lofty expectations and why it
is simply a mediocre horror offering all round. Notwithstanding the Friday the 13th Crazy Ralph
character, Jacoby who points his trembling finger and utters cryptic warnings
in the movie is simply not scary. The ominous atmosphere was palatable, but the
shocks never came. I jumped exactly once, ironically at a scare I knew was
coming thanks to an earlier trailer, and beyond that moment I sat tensely and
eagerly, but never to have my palate whetted. Additionally, the creatures from
the netherworld are revealed far too early on in the proceedings. That is not
to say they are showed in full light right off the get go (coincidently they
don’t like light), but what they are in general is far too silly
to be taken seriously as an unstoppable force of evil.

A number of scenes are
laughable as the pint-sized beings arm themselves with tools and small knives
to ward off an unlucky member of our heroes who snoops a little too close for
his own good; combined with the usual Del Toro mythology, we get Gremlins meets Hellboy II. The explanation behind the motivation of the creatures
is shaky at best (provided by a suspiciously knowledgeable librarian), who
seemingly need the bones and teeth of children to satisfy an ancient truce
made with mankind, yet frequently seem perfectly happy with taking grownups. The
fate of a “leader demon” also seems initially to be of some importance but is
tossed away along with the dishwater and the common sense of a number of
characters.

What we are left with when
the credits roll is a great looking haunted house flick with a talented cast,
no scares and a few too many dopey sequences and plot revelations; it’s
decidedly divided and fully disillusioned. Having written the screenplay for
capable first time director Troy Nixy, Don’t
Be Afraid of the Dark
is a rare chink in Del Toro’s armor which is
composed of stellar works of fantasy and horror. There are minor miracles to be
found absolutely, as the movie is graciously devoid of 3-D and relies on mood
over gore. These attributes may not be enough to smooth over the greater
structural issues in the storytelling, but it shows that there are much greater things
to be scared of than the dark.

Rating: 5.5/10

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Directed by Troy Nixy
Written by Guillermo Del
Toro
Starring Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison, Alan Dale

Rating
5.5

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