Don’t be Afraid of the Dark



By Gary Murray


Starring Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce and Bailee Madison


Written by Matthew Robbins and Guillermo del Toro


Directed by Troy Nixey


Running time 90 min


MPAA Rating R


Selig Film Rating Matinee



Halloween may be a more than a few weeks away, but with the sweltering heat of summer, everybody needs a good fall scare.  With the Guillermo del Toro stamp of approval, Don’t be Afraid of the Dark is a start to autumn chills.


The story of Don’t be Afraid of the Dark is of Sally (Bailee Madison) who is sent to live with her father Alex (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend/business partner Kim (Katie Holmes).  Little Sally is an LA kind of kid, popping prescription meds and being sullen. 


Kim and Alex are restoring an old home that once belonged to a famous artist.  There was some kind of unknown tragedy that happened in the house many years ago, but it is all but forgotten. 


Sally discovers an old abandoned basement under the house with a sealed fireplace.  She thinks that she can hear voices coming from somewhere beyond the fireplace, begging her to come and play with them.  Eventually the creatures behind the voices are released and they are gnome-like creatures who feed on the teeth of children.  These creatures begin to haunt Sally at night and destroy personal objects of the family.  The parents think that Sally is the culprit.  The film of Don’t be Afraid of the Dark becomes a battle between old world fantasy and new world reality.  


Director Troy Nixey just nails all the conventions of the ‘spooky old house’ genre of ancient horror flicks while giving it a CGI twist.  He takes a very slow burn to the proceedings, layering each level of horror.  This is not some in your face and over the top menu of gross-out thrills but a measured approach to delivery of horror.  It is much more mood over shock and works well in that old, grand tradition of gothic.  The computer generated images eventually are shown in full terror, but it is the buildup that makes it suspenseful.  Besides, the creatures are little demons, full of teeth and venom.


Katie Holmes is known more for who she is married to than her acting talents.  She delivers a strong performance in a secondary role.  She gives the most emotional range with her Kim, going from ‘evil step-mother’ to ‘protector-guardian’.  The reading of the role is very emphatic, as if she were the little girl herself. 


Guy Pearce never finds the needed spark for his role as Alex.  He is our skeptic, the guy who denies everything until it is too late but there just isn’t much for him to do other than say no.  His role is weak and not executed with the flair that Pearce has shown in films past. 


Young Bailee Madison just steals the show from her adult stars.  She is the wide-eyed innocent who finds that curiosity can definitely kill the cat.  With her expressive face and blood curdling screams, this is an A-list performance that should generate more roles for the youngster.


Don’t be Afraid of the Dark is based on an old teleplay from ABC in the 1970’s.  Under the guidance of co-writer and film maverick Guillermo del Toro this reinvention shows that a classic script can find new life in the 21st century.  He updates the horror but doesn’t try to reinvent it. 


I have no idea why the film is rated R.  It is not a graphic depiction of violent acts; there are neither mangled corpses nor ‘torture porn’ scenes.   It is almost a ‘family friendly’ horror film along the lines of Poltergeist from decades before.  This may not be the kind of film that everyone likes, but it is a solid piece of genre cinema.  So Don’t be Afraid of the Dark and check it out.


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