Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Directed by Troy Nixey
Starring Bailee Madison, Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce
Release date: August 26, 2011
When it comes to remakes, horror movies seem like the most popular option. It’s far rarer, however, that the film was a made-for-TV special, but such is the case for the new Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.
The film opens in the late 19th century at Blackwood Manor, a large mansion set in a remote woodsy area. A housekeeper is called into the basement by Mr. Blackwood only to be trapped and have her teeth bashed out with a chisel. An apologetic Blackwood, who is missing teeth himself, collects her shattered teeth and places them in a bloody dish. He places the dish inside a nearby fireplace, all the while begging to have his son back. Whispers respond, and Blackwood is painfully pulled into the fireplace.
Jumping forward to the modern day, architect Alex Hirst (Guy Pearce) and his interior decorator girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) are in the middle of an extensive renovation of Blackwood Manor. Things become complicated when Alex’s daughter Sally (Bailee Madison) arrives, having been sent by her mother to live with Alex. Sally quickly discovers the now barricaded basement and fireplace, and soon the whispers start again. Revealing more of the plot might ruin the scares for some people, but needless to say something scary calls Blackwood Manor home.
Based on a teleplay from 1973, the remake is co-written by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins. And though del Toro turned over directing to first-timer Troy Nixey, his influence is still noticeable throughout. The biggest change to the original script is having the protagonist being a child instead of an adult, and there are moments, especially early on, where is seems del Toro is attempting to recreate the atmosphere of Pan’s Labyrinth. The premise seems similar, with a young girl interacting with otherworldly creatures, but things quickly take a turn for the worse.
Even though the story is a modern “re-imagining,” the basic premise is nearly 40 years old, and in that time many of the tropes involved have become stale. It comes as no surprise that the adults don’t believe Sally when she says she sees and hears strange things around the house. There’s also nothing new about the old man who naturally knows the house’s secrets, but the random young librarian who just happens to have all Blackwood history and relevant mythology memorized seems a bit too convenient of a plot device.
Understandably, characters in horror movies don’t make the best decisions very often, but there are some actions taken by several characters in this film that are real head-scratchers. Perhaps there is too much reliance on the audience knowing the story from the original film, but by the end there are too many unanswered questions to be truly satisfying.
Performance-wise, Pearce has proven himself to be a great actor in the past (think Memento), but his presence is mostly forgettable this time around. Surprisingly, the best performance comes from Holmes, who brings the most grounded and realistic reactions to the film. Madison has her moments, but her character acts more like an adult than an 11-year-old at times, perhaps because her character was an adult in the original film.
But the only real concern is whether or not the movie manages to scare viewers. Unfortunately, the biggest scare is spoiled by the film’s trailer and the others are largely telegraphed by the mostly incomprehensible whispers or a low rumbling bass pumped through the theater. Though there are some moments that could make viewers jump, they are few and far between. The gaps are meant to be more creepy than scary, but CGI effects still don’t have the required realism to suspend disbelief. In the past del Toro has shown himself fond of using incredibly detailed makeup and costumes to create fantastic-looking creatures, but this time everything supernatural is computer-generated.
Even though he is not in the director’s chair, del Toro’s name will likely be the biggest draw for viewers, and sadly, Don’t be Afraid of the Dark does not live up to his previous works.