Sometimes a movie title can turn out the opposite of wishful thinking. And that would appear to be the case with Don’t be Afraid Of The Dark, a horror movie that seems more about artistry than anxiety, and contemplation rather than creeping audiences out. And a case in point advisory to the filmmaker, that it’s not always best to practice what your title may preach.
And though billed as the latest creation of Guillermo del Toro (Cronos, Pan’s Labyrinth), that master of the macabre is not actually the one to be held accountable. Though he produced and loosely adapted Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark from the original popular 1973 Nigel McKeand television movie because it was the first film to terrify him at the time as a child, the blame is more with the choice of director, comic book maven, Troy Nixey (Trout). Let’s face it Troy, a horror movie needs to set you on edge, not send you into a stupor.
Not that all those necessary ingredients aren’t present. There’s an immensely spooky Rhode Island mansion to lure us in right away. As divorced and distracted architect Alex Hurt (Guy Pearce) arrives on the premises of Blackwood Manor with his recent girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes), and sulking young daughter Sally (Bailee Madison).
Alex is hoping to restore and sell the mansion to subsidize his sagging career. Meanwhile, Sally is feeling abandoned and dumped on her dad by a neglectful mom, and perhaps rightly so. But in any case, she’s determined to make her sort of stepmother’s life a miserable living hell. Which spontaneously sets in motion the groundwork for murky heightened suspense, as to whether the ensuing mischief and attacks on humans are the malevolent deeds of this resentful problem child, or actual ghosts in the vicinity.
So where does Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark go wrong and end up being not quite afraid enough? For starters, the stylistic approach. Which is adequately effective in terms of fantasy, mood and atmosphere, but plays out more as an art film than horror. Then there are the so-called creatures lurking about, digital demons that seem to have wandered in from another movie, namely Gremlins.
Which is not to say that the stars don’t work hard at projecting sufficient fear in freak-out alert mode, to summon vicarious collective chills up audience spines. Especially Madison, whose possible bad seed bipolar moodiness renders her scarier at times than those cartoonish creatures. But maybe that’s the core problem with this movie.