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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

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Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Renowned filmmaker Guillermo del Toro had wanted to make a movie adaptation of Nigel McKeand’s  1973 teleplay Don't Be Afraid of the Dark for years. He believes the TV movie starring Kim Darby and Jim Hutton, which he saw as an impressionable nine year old, was “the scariest TV production ever made”. That is a matter of opinion. The question is, does his remake which he produced and cowrote with Matthew Robbins, cut it.  That's for audiences to decide and for him to find out.

Del Toro did not direct but handed over the duties to newcomer Troy Nixey, who does a decent job of building tension and creating a spooky atmosphere. The film starts off with a frightening sequence from the past that gives us more than a hint of what is to come.  Fast forward to the present where we meet a ten year old girl named Sally (Bailie Madison) who has come to live with her divorced architect father Alex (Guy Pearce) and his interior designer girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) in the secluded countryside Rhode Island mansion called Blackwood Manor that he and Kim are restoring and then putting back on the market.  Alex, a workaholic, is so obsessed with getting his finished work on the cover of Architectural Digest that he barely has time for Sally, who feels neglected and unwanted. Despite's Kim's initial efforts to make nice, Sally harbors resentment towards her future step mom and wants nothing more than to go home. We all know that isn't going to happen.

Left alone, Sally decides to go wandering about the grounds of the property and comes across the top of a hidden basement in the surrounding woods.  Against the warning of groundskeeper Mr. Harris, (Jack Thompson) who knows more than he is willing to reveal, to stay away, she finds her way inside the gloomy, dimly lit cellar, where she starts to hear whispering voices calling out to her from the centrally located, locked ash pit. Preying upon her insecurities, the voices draw her into their weave of deception by saying they want to come out and play and be her friend. Mind you, this is a horror film, so we all know these monstrous little critters have another, more evil agenda. Once able to free themselves from the locked grate they begin to target the little girl, first creating a lot of Gremlin-like mischief and havoc, before eventually getting down to dirty business and vicious attacks.

When Sally tries to convince her Dad of the terrorfying threat in their midst, he thinks she has a wild imagination and doesn't believe her. Only Kim begins to suspect Sally is telling the truth when she does some investigating of her own that takes her to the local library. That's where she discovers some information about fairy folk, or ancient entities known as the homunculi (Latin for little humans) that feed off the teeth of children and could possibly be responsible for the disturbing events taking place back at the mansion.

By the time Alex realizes the truth it is too late and it becomes a violent fight for their lives against the malevalent little beasts.

Like the main character in del Toro's Oscar winning Pans Labrynth, the story revolves around an innocent young girl’s struggle against menacing and terrifying forces.   Bailie Madison is more than up to the task and shines as the central focus and true star of the film.  She carries the flick delivering an effective, compelling performance.  Guy Pearce isn't around much as Alex.  It's a thankless, almost walkthrough role any capable actor could have filled. Katie Holmes fares better as the caring, sympathetic mother figure who eventually forms a bond with Sally.

While the special effects, art direction and cinematography are first rate, there are some issues that plague me. Too many story elements jump out as overused. A secluded mansion, a scary basement, a troubled child, a groundskeeper with a secret, and a father or mother who thinks his/her daughter is imagining things have been employed so many times, I could write the script.

Even though del Toro has made some changes to the original teleplay, there is overall lack of originality. That isn't to say there aren't creepy, gruesome moments;  the best being in the opening sequence that gets the film off to a good start, but then never quite fulfills expectations.

As for being the scariest haunted house horror flick ever, I don't think so. I could list several that are by far more spine tingling.  Don't Be Afraid of the Dark may scare the heck out of young children, but not for most adults who see the light.

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