|Katie Holmes stars in "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark"|
Rated R for violence and terror
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