DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK
Directed by TROY NIXEY
Starring KATIE HOLMES, GUY PEARCE, and BAILEE MADISON
I had high hopes for this film and don't get me wrong it's still a good film, but it's not nearly as good as it could have been. Pan's Labyrinth was far more daring. The one great thing about Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is that it reminds me of how horror movies used to be--old Gothic manors; beautiful art direction; gray-haired caretakers; local librarians who know a little too much about one particular house; and of course, supernatural creatures.
|Bailee Madison and Katie Holmes|
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark joins the ranks of classic haunted house films like The Haunting, House on a Haunted Hill, and Gremlins, yes Gremlins. Unfortunately, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is more like Gremlins, without the campiness, which is what made Gremlins great. I say this and I liked the original Gremlins. I even had a Gizmo doll.
Considering the talent of the filmmakers, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark falls slightly flat. Directed by first-time feature-film director, Troy Nixey, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, is visually striking, but predictable. Troy Nixey got his start as a comic book artist and it's evident. The art direction, including the opening credits, is creepily beautiful. Another theme throughout the film is Guillermo Del Toro. Del Toro, who directed Pan's Labyrinth, which was another film full of grotesque creatures, produced and co-wrote the screenplay for Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. Del Toro's influence can be felt throughout the film, but not enough to save it from averageness.
The basic premise is simple and it's been done...to death. A divorced father, his daughter from a previous marriage, and his sensitive new girlfriend movie into a haunted manor. Guy Pearce plays papa bear Alex Hirst, Katie Holmes plays Kim, his interior designer girlfriend, and twelve-year old Bailee Madison plays his precocious daughter Sally. Despite the A-list talent, it's Bailee who steals the show as the curious little girl. Against her will, Sally moves into Blackwood Manor with them, which is an estate that they're restoring. Blackwood Manor was previously owned by a wildlife painter whom—"wait for it"—disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Note to self, when you move into a house called 'Blackwood Manor' you're in trouble.
As children are known to do, Sally explores the eerie mansion, the garden hedge mazes, and the creepy dark basement. She soon discovers hidden creatures who beckon and whisper to her throughout the film. The adults of course pay little attention to her, they don't believe her, and they seemingly allow her to roam the sprawling estate unsupervised. These are all prerequisites for a standard haunted house formula. Once you add a pinch of character-driven stupidity, then you're cooking with gas. Now your haunted house recipe is ready for the oven.
The film is a remake of the 1973 television movie of the same name, and 'oh-boy' have the visuals come a long way. The cgi was exceptional, but showing too much of the creatures diminished the tension. Sometimes "less is more." The tension buildup is lost when we see the creatures so abundantly. Had the creatures been shown sparingly, it would have improved the film. This is a mistake that so many movies make.
|Katie Holmes comforts Bailee Madison|
Perhaps with a more seasoned director this film could have been so much better. But despite the over-worked formula, it's still terrifyingly fun to watch. In the wrong hands, it could have been so much worse, i.e. Cold Creek Manor, but in the right hands, this film could have been spectacular.
The first part of the film was exceptional--lots of low whispers, sudden gushes of wind, hollowed voices, and unexplained screeching sounds. The latter part of the film is full of cheap thrills, and shock sequences, most of which have been seen in trailer. Still as haunted house films go, this is a good one. There were plenty of gasps of air coming out of jumpy theater patrons. At the same time, there were some gasps of frustration and laughter during scenes that were not meant to be funny.
THREE OUT OF FIVE STARS
THREE OUT OF FIVE STARS