Review by J.T. Johnson
DIRECTOR: Troy Nixey
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Oliver Stapleton
WRITER: Guillermo del Toro
MUSIC: Marco Beltrami, Buck Sanders
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is a remake of a made-for-television movie that premiered on ABC in 1973. In the original film, a woman named Sally inherits an old mansion that she and her husband move into. Soon, she discovers that there are creatures leaving behind a bricked-up fire place and they want her to join them.
The remake, written by Matthew Robbins and Guillermo del Toro, essentially takes this same plot. The big difference is that the protagonist, who is still named Sally (Bailee Madison), is a young girl who has recently been abandoned by her mother and shipped away to her father, Alex (Guy Pearce). Alex and his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) are restoring the mansion in order to make the cover of a famous architecture magazine.
Due to being abandoned, Sally is a shutoff child who wants nothing to do with her father or Kim, a woman who now has to deal with a kid she didn’t expect to support. Thanks to those pesky creatures, Sally is constantly terrified while her father thinks she is crazy and no one believes her.
It should be noted that this movie is shot with a lot of style. The design of the mansion and its surrounding is superb while the cinematography gives an almost magical yet elusive feel to the piece. Also, the design of the creatures and some of the art definitely has del Toro’s fingerprints all over them despite handing off directorial duties to someone else.
Despite the style, though, the story does not follow up with the scares. Almost the entire film is about Sally discovering and trying to convince her father and Kim that she’s not crazy. This works for the first half of the film, but the audience quickly gets bored as they wait for the inevitable moment that the creatures will make themselves known.
While waiting for any real scares that never come, director Troy Nixey tries to give the film a creepy tone that ends up being unintentionally funny. The creatures whisper to Sally and it’s supposed to be scary but ultimately fails.
Speaking of the creatures, they may not have a bad design but they are not particularly effective monsters. For the first half of the film, since they are scared of the light, their shadows and silhouettes are what define them and this can be effectively chilling at first. As soon as they are revealed, any mystery or scariness is immediately blown away.
The performances are a strong note for the film. Madison is very effective as the young Sally in a role that other kids could have destroyed. When Sally is scared, Madison makes the audience believe it.
Another strong performance comes from Holmes as the frustrated Kim. The actress plays the role as a woman who would like to help and support Sally but can’t quite find her way. The only real problem with her character comes from the script. Kim is the first person that begins to suspect that something real is going on. She should have believed Sally at the halfway point, but the script keeps her stupid until the final climax of the film.
Again, the film is shot with an abundant supply of style. The performances are also strong for the most part. Unfortunately, an extremely weak script, few scares and non-scary creatures make this an unworthy horror film.