CliqueClack Flicks

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – Be afraid of the clichés

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark - Theater Review
Release Date: 08/26/2011 - MPAA Rating: R
Clacker Rating: 2 Clacks

A classic TV horror movie of the week gets the remake treatment, but loses everything that made it claustrophobic and frightening up on the big screen.

A literal tooth faerie in "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark"

When I was a kid back in the early 1970s, I vividly remember the ABC Movie of the Week and the string of horror movies the  network aired, including such gems as The Night Stalker (which gave birth to the cult favorite TV series), Moon of the Wolf, Trilogy of Terror and The Stranger Within. One of those movies of the week is now getting the big screen remake treatment, but with a greatly altered plot.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark stars Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce as an unmarried couple, an architect and interior designer, who have recently purchased a spooky old mansion, formerly owned by an artist with a mysterious past, with the hopes of renovating it for the cover of Architectural Digest. Out of the blue, Alex’s daughter Sally is pretty much dumped on the doorstep by his ex-wife. Conflicts arise between Sally and Alex’s girlfriend Kim, and they believe Sally is acting out her dislike of Kim and her new living situation when strange things begin to take place. Unfortunately, no one believes Sally when she tells them that there are tiny, light-fearing creatures terrorizing her and the rest of the household.

Now in the original TV movie (recently remastered and available on DVD), Sally was the terrorized wife and there was no child so it’s curious that producer Guillermo del Toro would make what is essentially a child’s darkest faerie tale (yes, the little creatures are discovered to be faeries, but don’t think Tinkerbell — these eat children’s teeth!), with a child now in the central role, as an R-rated movie. If you’re going to put a kid in the lead role, at least shoot for a PG-13 (and there really isn’t any reason this movie is rated R). The end result actually comes off as a glorified TV movie with some of the worst acting this side of a Syfy Channel epic.

Guy Pearce is the d-bag father, focused on his career and putting his child behind that and his girlfriend. He’s totally unlikeable and his performance is flat, maybe because he was so focused on maintaining an American accent (ironically, the film was shot in Australia). The fact that his dialog is pretty atrocious doesn’t help. Katie Holmes’ character is also pretty one-note, and she’s not given much to work with but at least she does show a tiny bit of growth as she comes to discover the truth about the house and knows Sally truly is in danger. I hate to put down a child actor, but Bailee Madison is just not that good either. She scowls throughout the movie and, again, it’s just a one-note performance. Supporting actors Jack Thompson and Julia Blake fare no better with their hammy and corny performances as the groundskeeper and housekeeper, respectively (perhaps also struggling with the accent). Then Alan Dale shows up for a minute as Mr. Jacoby, and he insists on Alex calling him Charles. All I could think was that he was Charles Widmore from Lost.

Director Troy Nixey, who has only one short film to his credit, totally drops the ball when it comes to working with his actors, and whatever atmosphere there is to the proceedings can be credited directly to producer del Toro. In fact, every scene that takes place on the grounds of the mansion are lifted from Pan’s Labyrinth, and the creatures can also be traced right back to the imagination of del Toro (and I don’t know which versions are creepier — the CGI movie critters or the little people in Halloween masks in the TV version). Unfortunately, Nixey falls back on standard horror movie clichés with loud music and sound effects cuing the audience when to jump (surprisingly, there is no stray cat jumping into frame out of nowhere), and the best scare (judging from the person sitting next to me) is pretty much blown in all of the TV ads (unless you haven’t seen the TV ads … like the person sitting next to me). He and the writers also insist on having everyone do stupid things, like go exploring when all the lights go out instead of getting the heck out of that house!

In the end, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark never comes close to capturing that gloomy, claustrophobic feel of the TV movie in all of its big screen bigness. It was as much of a disappointment as the truly awful remake of The Haunting back in 1999. Save this one for a video rental, and in the meantime track down the original to see what scary was like in 1973!



Photo Credit: FilmDistrict/Miramax

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