Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)
Release Date: August 26th, 2011 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Troy Nixey Actors: Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison, Edwina Ritchard, Jack Thompson, Libby Gott
on’t Be Afraid of the Dark” successfully revisits the haunting story of the original 1973 made-for-TV movie, which crafted a chilling tale of fantasy and horror. Like it’s predecessor, one of the most unique aspects is the creature design, utilizing tiny, misshapen, devilish critters scurrying around on the ground like oversized rats. For once, monstrous antagonists aren’t the source of terror – instead, an army of miniature villains provide plenty of scares with scissors, screwdrivers, and straight razors. Although rated R by the MPAA, the bloody violence is lacking, with suggestive but unseen brutality in the forefront and atmospheric pop-out scares always at the ready. Still, the most agonizingly frightening scene was given away in the teaser trailer – the slow lifting of bed sheets to reveal the first good look at the little tormentors.
Alex (Guy Pearce) picks up his young daughter Sally (Bailee Madison) from the airport to welcome her back into his life – a decision hastily made when her mother thinks it would be best to change her environment. Alex is joined by his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes), who is nervous about jumping into the role of taking care of a child. They cheerily bring Sally back to the old mansion they’ve been restoring – a creepy building once owned by the demented Emerson Blackwood before he mysteriously vanished shortly after his 8-year-old boy also disappeared.
Sally doesn’t approve of Kim, but finds a reason to start confiding in her: a hidden basement under the property houses a boarded-up, fireplace-like hole where gravelly whispers call out to her to play. Words of warning by handyman Mr. Harris (Jack Thompson) fall on deaf ears as the trio explores the private quarters of the tortured Blackwood. After Sally opens up the excavation, she realizes all too late that she’s unleashed an army of sinister pygmy goblins hell-bent on capturing her soul, as required by their ancient code of barbarous existence.
With eerie sound effects, a shocking opening scene, and ghastly scenery drenched in atmospheric visuals, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” gets off to a strong start. The Hitchcockian title sequence doesn’t quite fit, however, and the pacing fumbles midway. The small cast is effective for character development but counterproductive for victim body count, lessening tension as only the child is targeted for persecution. The odds of Sally gorily getting the business end of a sharp object are much less likely than when adults are involved. Still, there’s a slowly building dread, jumpy moments, and a persistently morbid mood that presides nicely over the frightful happenings as the plot follows the original teleplay very closely. Sadly, the film as a whole doesn’t break new ground in the horror genre, or even offer up any particularly startling moments not witnessed in the preview trailer.
– Mike Massie