Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Film review: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Directed by: Troy Nixey

Starring: Katie Holmes
Guy Pearce
Bailee Madison

Synopsis:A young girl sent to live with her father and his new girlfriend discovers creatures in her new home who want to claim her as one of their own.

My thoughts: Don't be Afraid of the Dark is a remake of a 1973 tele-movie by the same name. A childhood favourite of writer Guillermo del Toro (he sat out directing this one), this film is a horror-by-numbers. It isn't bad, but it certainly isn't great, and delivers nothing new.

When Sally (Madison) reluctantly moves to live with her dad (Pearce) and his girlfriend, Kim, (Holmes) while they restore an old home, she comes face to face with small, spindly fingered fairies. At first she thinks they want to be friends, but their hostility soon grows and she begins to fear for her life. Her attempts to tell her dad are stonewalled, and instead of shipping her back to her mum, a psychologist is brought to speak with her and she's medicated. As her dad grows more distant as he immerses himself in the house, Kim begins to think there may be some truth to Sally's fears and searches for proof.

Don't be Afraid of the Dark isn't a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, but it suffers from a lack of ambition. Rather than invest in a complicated and dark horror story, it settles for simple scares and fills in the gaps with expositionary scenes that, in all honesty, are some of the worst I've come across in a big budget film like this. Part of the problem seems to be that Del Toro concentrates on the fairy/monsters far too much. Similar to Pan's Labyrinth, this film has an abundance of scenes which show these incredibly detailed and creepy looking creatures. Unlike Pan's Labyrinth, however, these creatures aren't enough to ride the entire film on. It's also a little strange to see such a scare-heavy film actually show you the creatures from very near the start of the film, usually they try and build up the suspense and let you make them creepier in your own mind first.

There are attempts made to add a story in amongst the creepy fairy scenes, but they aren't particularly strong and few of them seem to go anywhere. There's the psychology side which could have built the film up into quite an interesting psychological horror film if they'd hidden the creatures for a little longer, or the upset little girl who hates her stepmum-to-be and blames "fairies" for the destruction of Kim's property, or even the historic tooth fairy thread introduced at about the three quarter mark, but none of these threads ever seem to really go anywhere. Instead they're all tangled up into this mess of a story, which is a real shame because there is enough decent dialogue and action sequences to see that there was a pretty good film buried in there.

My other issue was with the casting. Bailee Madison was incredible as Sally. She cycled through an entire library of emotions depending on the scene and was very convincing. For some strange reason they picked Katie Holmes to be her father's girlfriend, even though the two females look uncannily alike. When I saw the ads for this film last year I had assumed Sally was Kim's daughter, but apparently not. I also have a complete aversion to Katie Holmes, so I can't be sure whether my dislike of her in this film was due to that, or actually due to miscasting. Guy Pearce, however, is an actor I rarely dislike in a film, but I just felt like he wasn't utilised to his full potential in this film. His character swings around, from hard-ass dad, to loving dad, to distant dad, to overbearing boyfriend...because he isn't as central as Kim or Sally, I think they just decided not to develop him as thoroughly as they should have.

Perhaps they were struggling with the constraints of the original film and grappling with how much they could change and how much should stay the same, or perhaps they just completely misread what this film needed to be. Either way, it's a passable film, but easily forgettable. The creatures themselves are a work of wonder, not quite as amazing as those who appear in Pan's Labyrinth but there has obviously been a great deal of love and attention given to their creation and animation. Like I said, this isn't a bad film, there were some genuinely interesting and scary scenes, and the overall quality of the cinematography etc was of a high caliber, they just missed the mark. A shame really.

3 out of 5 carousel night lights. 


  1. Guy Pearce is a good actor BUT he can't play a typical dad to save his life. For me, he almost ruined the movie. Bad casting choice.

  2. You're right anon, and actually I can't think of another movie off the top of my head where he's played a father! But I think it also had a lot to do with the script/direction as well. He just seemed so all over the place it was like he was played 2 or 3 different men.