Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Bailee Madison
Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins, Nigel McKeand (1973 teleplay)
Rated R (Ludicrous)
Sally (Bailee Madison, Letters to God and Conviction) is a lonely young girl who arrives in Rhode Island with her father (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Katie Holmes) at their new 19th-century mansion.
Hmm. Little girl. Secluded mansion. Not a good sign.
While exploring the grounds of her new home, Sally discovers a hidden basement that has been left untouched since the mysterious disappearance of the mansion's original builder over a century ago. Despite the stern warnings of the mansion's caretaker (Jack Thompson), Sally inadvertently unleashes dark and mysterious creatures determined to drag her down to the depths of the basement. Sally must convince her family that all of this is very, very real ... before it's too late.
Presented by and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a remake of a 1973 made-for-television horror flick of the same name. There are actually quite a few similarities between the two films, though Guillermo del Toro has given in to his penchant for younger female protagonists by changing Sally from an adult in the original film to a child in this remake. While I've never quite been a fan of the whole "child at risk" storyline, there's no denying that it feels less like a gimmick here than a creative choice that adds significantly to the film's building sense of menace and danger. It helps that 10-year-old Bailee Madison, whose resume is already quite impressive, serves up a terrific performance here with just the right amounts of vulnerability, childlike curiosity and loneliness. Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce are mostly stock characters here, a genuine waste of Pearce's immense talent but just about right for Holmes.
There are times when the updated script, from del Toro and Matthew Robbins, doesn't quite gel and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is plagued by many of the same issues as its predecessor including immense holes in the story, inconsistencies and chills that just aren't chilling enough for a film with the del Toro name attached to it.
D.P. Oliver Stapleton lenses the film in such a way that it adds a weighty aura to the proceedings, while the original music from Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders adds to the film's haunting atmosphere. Some may argue that the creatures themselves lack the expected dominating presence, but from this writer's viewpoint they worked quite nicely being placed almost on the same level as young Sally. The creatures, which sort of resemble the bastard child of Gollum and a Gremlin, may not be the most haunting beasties on the big screen this year but one can easily see why this young girl finds them so incredibly frightening.
With his first feature film, director Troy Nixey constructs a flawed yet effective thriller that will please the old school horror/thriller crowd far more than it will fans of most contemporary horror flicks. At times, Nixey seems to lean a bit too much on his acclaimed mentor, but given that Nixey does so much right here one can't help but feel that this freshman effort will give way to Nixey's trusting his own cinematic voice a bit more the next time out.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic