Don't Be Afraid of the Dark Directed by: Troy Nixey Cast: Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison Running Time: 1 hr 39 mins Rating: R Release Date: August 26, 2011
PLOT: A little girl (Madison) goes to stay with her dad (Pearce) and his girlfriend (Holmes) in an old mansion. Something in the basement wants the girl.
WHO'S IT FOR? It's in the same vein as a classic horror tale. This film is big on establishing creepy moments, but not big scares.
EXPECTATIONS: A friend was excited about this one, so I brought him along. I knew Holmes and Pearce were in it and Del Toro presents (produces) not directs. That's it. That's all I knew.
ACTORS: Bailee Madison as Sally: Madison definitely has lungs made for horror movies. Yes, that's a compliment. Sally has a reason to be upset. She feels neglected from her mom, and shipped off to her dad. When things start whispering to her in this giant new house, she isn't scared, she's curious. Yes, that absolutely makes me curious about her, but then again, I already know those whispering things are evil, the beginning of the film proved that point. So, she's curious, then scared, then curious, then freaked out, then curious again. The character's motivations get so repetitive that it kills my curiosity. That's not the kind of death they had in mind. Score: 4
Katie Holmes as Kim: Casting Holmes as a woman wanting/needing to connect is perfect. After all, isn't that how we see her? Holmes comes off as someone wanting to be liked (by Sally in this case). It seems like Kim will be the one to embrace and listen to Sally, but then she gets distracted. The character, as written, is the problem, not Holmes' performance. Score: 3
Guy Pearce as Alex: He wants to get in to Architectural Digest. Pretty exciting dream, right? No, it's not, at least not the way Don't Be Afraid of the Dark portrays it. It appears if you're trying to get in to this magazine you can never listen to your daughter for more than a few seconds at a time, you can rarely listen to your girlfriend, whom you supposedly respects, and you must throw a party and the worst possible time. Score: 2
TALKING: OK, let's start talking about the creepy things that whisper. We'll call them fairies from here on out, OK? The fairies whisper. And that's creepy, but then they whisper over and over, and Sally shows no signs of worry. This zaps the scare appeal. The thing that is supposed to freak me out doesn't. The rest of the time it's people never listening to a child. Oh, and I almost forgot, Kim luckily encounters the most brilliant librarian of all time to fill in any gaps we might be having with this story. Score: 2
SIGHTS: This is an absolutely great creepy house. That most definitely includes the basement and old furnace. It taps into the same looks as Pan's Labyrinth especially with the gardens. Here's the thing about creepy houses ... they don't make or break the scary movie. The Haunting (1999) had the look down and didn't bring quality scares. Score: 7
SOUNDS: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark starts with a beautiful musical number that had me craving more, unfortunately nothing recaptured that musical vibe for me during the rest of the film. Score: 5
BEST SCENE: Sally is sucked in (not literally) to the whispers pretty fast. And I thought for a while, "Wow they'll speed through the basic horror stuff and get to something new!" I was wrong. They just kept repeating.
ENDING: While I was happy the momentum of the film finally picked up, I wasn't scared or nervous for any of these characters at all.
QUESTIONS: OK, here we go ... Do the fairies want children's teeth, but not the children? Do they need to take a human to have a new leader, or do they just make the new one the leader because it's so much work and the others are getting old? Kim is completely on board once the librarian explains everything to her, or at least she's worried for Sally's mental state, so why does she agree to throw the stupid party? Why isn't Sally scared of the whispers? Why does Sally keep allowing herself to be left alone? Why is the only camera in this modern world an old Polaroid? Harris (Jack Thompson) is supposed to keep the fairies a secret? Why, what does he gain? And why would anyone believe Harris tripped? Dear lord, look at the man! And finally, why don't Alex and Kim pick up after the mess and find pictures of the fairies or maybe even one of the fairy's arms?
REWATCHABILITY: Nope, it would bug me even more because now that I know it's all individual set-ups and no powerful scares, the set-ups would lose their power. Actually, hang on, I will sit down with Nixey and let him explain what he was going for.
Ignorance is bliss. That's what horror films depend on all too much. In the case of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark not only do they rely on the ignorance of the characters, but also of the audience.
Alex and Kim realize that young Sally is being terrorized. Whether it's actual or mental, there's trauma. We're stuck with a dad that doesn't want to deal with it and a girlfriend who finally figures out there could be creepy crawling things ... but doesn't do anything about it.
They keep leaving Sally alone. The little creatures keep teasing. The teasing actually got to the point where it made me feel like I am supposed to be in on this movie as a joke. In other words, "Look how dumb these characters are! Why don't they just leave the house? Cause they are stupid! Ha. Ha." But if I was supposed to be in on the joke, they would have had more than one amusing moment. Yes, the fairies actually play for a laugh one time, attempting to steal Sally's evidence that would prove they exist. That reminded me of Gremlins, that beautiful, comedic self-awareness in the face of horror. Remember how that movie ends? With Hoyt Axton saying ...
"Well, that's the story. So if your air conditioner goes on the fritz or your washing machine blows up or your video recorder conks out, before you call the repairman turn on all the lights, check all the closets and cupboards, look under all the beds, 'cause you never can tell there just might be a gremlin in your house."
Maybe those lines are what Don't Be Afraid of the Dark was going for, but that's the thing, I couldn't actually tell. That means it failed. After the beautiful, creepy look, and the tension it created, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark simply felt like it was trying to manipulate.
FINAL SCORE: 3/10