Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)Synopsis: Come and play

While architect Alex Hurst (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) restore their Gothic mansion’s period interiors, Alex’s young daughter Sally (Bailee Madison) can investigate the dark corners of the estate. She begins hearing raspy whispers coming from the basement and her curiosity gets the better of her. She finally opens the door to an army of beady-eyed, sharp-clawed monsters. The horror is real and she and her family are in peril. She tries to warn everyone… but no one is listening.

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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010) 7.5

eyelights: the mansion. the production.
eyesores: the overuse of the creatures.

“Come and join us.”

After watching 1973’s cult classic TV movie ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark‘, a part of me was quite curious to see the Guillermo Del Toro-produced remake of it. While I had heard very mixed things about it, the original had enough potential that I wondered if Del Toro would tap into the essentials and enhance what worked while finessing that which didn’t.

For Hallowe’en, I decided to schedule a little screening at my place with some friends. It seemed like a fitting end to my six-week horror film viewings, given that it all started with the original and that my friend (who was so affected by the TV movie as a child) was going to join us. I was very curious to find out what she’d think of this new version.

So I prepared together a few grab bags of goodies for my friends, turned the lights down low and we got down to business of being scared… of the dark.

Although the picture is merely produced and co-written by Del Toro (it’s actually directed by comic book artist and first-time director Troy Nixey), you can see his influence right from the start: He changed the protagonist from an adult woman to a little girl, set the film in a large, gorgeous mansion, and imbued the production with a fantastical quality.

A dark, fantastical quality.

The plot has echoes of the original story, but Del Toro gave it his own spin, starting with an intro that sets up the house’s sinister past. Then we are taken to present day, where Sally is forced by her mom to move in with her father and his girlfriend, who are restoring the mansion so that they may resell it at a profit. Sally is displeased with this arrangement.

Lonely, with no one to play with, she is vulnerable to the call of voices in the house, voices that say they want to be her friend. And so she ventures into the basement to seek out the creatures that are beckoning her. The house’s caretaker, Mr. Harris, is distraught at the thought, and had protested the opening of this hidden basement when it was first discovered by the family.

But Sally opens the ash pit in the basement, allowing whatever lives deep in the mansion’s bowels free reign to roam about the house at will. And, for all their claims to the contrary, they aren’t friendly.

I was rather impressed with this ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’. Perhaps it was a case of adjusted expectations, but I thought that the actors were all solid, the script mostly made sense, the dialogues were decent enough, the tone was perfect, the special effects were nearly seamless (i.e. the CGI critters were a bit off) and the production was splendid to look at.

I wasn’t alone: the overall sentiment in my group is that it was pretty good. We were all a bit irritated with the way the adults disbelieved Sally when she talked about what was happening, but this is typical, really. And the fact that the family took so long to even consider getting out makes sense given how much they had invested in this house – it would ruin them to leave.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

But there are a few questions left unanswered:

  • Why would Mr. Harris know about the creatures, but promise them not to tell anyone of their existence?
  • After Harris is attacked, saving Sally, why wouldn’t anyone wonder about his wounds, which were obviously made by someone other than himself? Personally, I expected that they would think Sally did it, given how messed up they think she is…
  • Why would the creatures give Sally a coin for a tooth that she had taken from the ash pit in the first place? They could have had it all along, plus they clearly only wanted children‘s teeth – so why give her a coin, then?
  • Sally crushes one of the creatures between two books but its carcass isn’t found by her father. Is it because the carcass was taken away by the rest of the creatures, because there are too many books for him to stumble upon it, or because Sally forgot to show him?

A lot of it seems too convenient, as though it was easier for the writers to not address this.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

Overall, I quite enjoyed ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’. It took a different tack than the original, but Del Toro created an excellent film around its bones – flawed, but nonetheless excellent. It’s not especially scary but, much like ‘El laberinto del fauno‘, even though the protagonist is a young girl, it’s not suitable for children. It may not be scary, but it can be disturbing.

Story: 7.0
Acting: 7.5
Production: 8.0

Chills: 6.0
Gore: 3.0
Violence: 3.0

Date of viewing: October 31, 2014

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