Sunday, August 28, 2011

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark - Movie Review

Katie Holmes stars in "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark"
Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark
Rated R for violence and terror
Filmmaking: ☆☆
Moral Rating: 

"Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark" could best be described as a strange hybrid between "The Others" and "Pan's Labyrinth". And Indeed this comparison is almost necessary, as "Don't Be Afraid" was written and produced by Pan's Labyrinth creator Guillermo Del Toro. Del Toro is also responsible for the "Hellboy" films and is currently working on a sci-fi picture called "Pacific Rim." If it seems as if Del Toro is all over the place, it is because he is! Long attached to the now in development film adaptations of "The Hobbit", Del Toro decided to leave the director's chair so he could pursue other projects, one of which ended up being "Don't Be Afraid". Generally speaking, Del Toro's projects are creative, well made, and somewhat scary. So his latest definitely arrives with high expectations. Would it live up to it's producer's reputation? Would it be as scary as the 70's original tv movie it was based on? Well let's examine the film, shall we?!

"Don't Be Afraid" stars Guy Pearce as Alex and Katie Holmes as his girlfriend Kim, who are in the middle of renovations at a huge mansion when Alex's daughter Sally comes to stay with them. Things begin to happen when Sally discovers a hidden basement where the former owner of the property, Mr. Blackwood, had died. Things begin to happen when Sally finds a grate blocking creatures that live under the house from  entering and wreaking havoc, however due to a highly illogical series of events, she ends up listening to them and letting them in. Without ruining anything, I can say that one thing leads to another and soon we discover the history of the place while Alex and Kim struggle with knowing what to do with Sally (is she crazy, or telling the truth?).

As you have probably already surmised, the plot (while simple) is FULL of the typical types of plot holes and illogical, nay, plain stupid behavior that gets our characters into these messes in the first place! While the scares are good, it is impossible to get over the fact that people in horror movies NEVER follow the rules of logic. (What do they teach in schools these days?) For instance, we discover that the creatures are trying to take Sally and that they can't stand the light. Despite this there are sequences in which Sally is left alone in the dark, scenes where everything would be fine if they would simply turn on the freaking light! And then of course, there are the photos. One major plot point of the movie was that Sally was able to capture the image of some of these creatures on film, leading to a scuffle (even killing one), yet the climax of the scene ends with a hug from daddy dearest, and the pictures (and the body of the dead creature) are never mentioned, or seen again. What is the point of a sequence like that if you don't get anywhere? Come on, Guillermo.

Despite the lousy story and script, this movie DOES have style. I mentioned in the opening paragraph a comparison to "Pan's Labyrinth". "Don't Be Afraid" shares many of the same fantastical views of nature and the property, much the same way "Pan's Labyrinth" did. The lighting and cinematography convey the idea that this movie is in fact a fairy tale, and not a thriller, and this IS the case. The story incorporates fairy tale ideas and character design by the half way point, and in this regard "Don't Be Afraid" is distinctly Del Torian. Rather than focusing on the horror of what the creatures might do to Sally, the film instead showcases the weirdness of them and the grotesqueness of their appearance. Rather than focusing on the characters at hand and leaving the antagonistic force in a shroud of mystery, Del Toro's approach makes us focus on the fairy tale aspect of the narrative. We see much of the so called "dark fairies" as they try to capture Sally (presumably to eat her teeth. Imagine THAT kind of a tooth fairy!) rather than experience suspense through the unknown like Hitchcock. Along with this fantasy treatment is a BEAUTIFUL score and some gorgeous lighting.

In conclusion, a beautiful design and musical score cannot save what is ultimately a cliche, un-scary horror film. Del Toro has an eye for design and fairy tales but for some reason "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark" falls flat. Perhaps it is the undeserved R rating that led me to expect a better scary movie, or maybe it was the coldness and intensity of his previous works, but "Don't Be Afraid" is a bit of a paradox. On one hand if functions well as a fairy tale, utilizing a little girl and horrible creatures to tell it's tale. BUT on the other hand, it tells us that it is a horror movie - at which it really falls short. I would advise waiting to see this until it is out on DVD. But still, it's worth a rental!

Signing out, The Buckland Fiddler

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Racism and the Cinema - thoughts on "The Help"

Emma Stone and Viola Davis star in "The Help", now in theaters

Racism. You would think that by now, in the technological progress of the 21st century, that we would have moved beyond such a horrible reality. But the reality is that racism still runs rampant in our nation, predominantly in the south. Growing up in Memphis has given me a deeper insight into this mess than I ever cared to know, but now that I do know, I do care. How could someone ever judge someone and treat them as inferiors based solely on the color of their skin?

I went to see "The Help" this past weekend with a couple of friends. I had heard that the movie was a must-see and that Emma Stone shone as an actress. Yes, I went for entertainment purposes - not to be enlightened- yet left the theater deep in thought. In case you haven't seen it (or read the book), "The Help" follows a young journalist nicknamed Skeeter (Emma Stone) as she returns to her hometown of Jackson, MS following her graduation from Ole Miss. She promptly accepts a job as a housekeeping advice columnist for the newspaper as all her friends are busy starting families, having babies, hosting bridge parties, etc... with the assistance of 'the help', or the black maids that work in their houses. 

As a progressive woman who has always shied away from tradition, Skeeter begins to write an exposé on 'the help' with the assistance of several maids, to shed some light on the unfair treatment and racial prejudice against these black employees. Along the way she gains friends in Aibileen and Minny (Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer) and loses some old friends ( Bryce Dallas Howard as the infuriating Hilly Holbrook). Facing danger of social rejection and their safety from the KKK in the ever heating Civil Rights Movement, Skeeter publishes the stories of these maids as an anonymous book called "The Help", which starts to illuminate the heartache and unfairness that is racism.

The performances in this film are nothing less than amazing. The production design of the early 1960's looks exactly like every picture your grandmother ever showed you. But the reason that this movie is so darn good is that it has HEART. At the core of this movie is a story of relationship. Whether it is Skeeter's strained relationship with her mother, her gained friendship with Aibileen; or whether it is Hilly Holbrook's cold hatred towards Minny, or the outcast "white trash" Celia Foote (played by Tree of Life's Jessica Chastain) "The Help" is jam packed with people wanting to be loved, wanting to be accepted. If we think about it, that is why racism is so wrong. We are withholding love from someone who has every right to receive it. Who are we to withhold love from someone for a reason so horrid as race or skin color? As a Christian I am reminded of Colossians 3:11 when it says "Here (in Christ) there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all."  

We could also look at John 12:34 - "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." Or perhaps 2 Corinthains 13:11 - "Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you." Biblically speaking, there is no justification at all for racism. Which makes perfect sense. The simple ugly truth about racism is that it won't go away. As long as there are people rejecting God, rejecting His perfect LOVE then there is absolutely NO way that they can love others. So what can we do? We can show the love of God to them. As the saying goes "You may be the only Jesus they ever see." 

How do we confront racism? With love. With God's unending love. Through our actions, our attitude, our humility, and our love the world will know that we are God's and that He desires for them to know Him. No matter what skin color, what heritage, what horrible sins they may have committed- no matter what, God desires for all men to know him. "By this will they know you are my disciples, that you love one another." Thus says John 12:35. We can make an impact. We simply must show HIS love to those around us. 

"The Help" is rated PG-13 for thematic material and is in theaters now. I do not recommend it for children because of language and the intense thematic material surrounding racism. See it and let it challenge the way you think about your relationships!