Notable Cast: Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Bailee Madison
Review: Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark was supposed to be that savior horror film of 2011 that appeases those in need for a good scare. All the stars were aligned. You had a Guillermo Del Toro script that stressed heavily a tension built story instead of gore, an ambitious young first time director with a visually impressive short (Latchkey’s Lament) already to his name who wanted to make his mark on the genre, and a strong leading cast who seemed adept for the task. So why did I walk out with such an empty feeling in my gut afterwards? My expectations were not grandiose, even with the pedigree Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark came along with, so I don’t blame too much hype on my part. I never thought I’d say this, but even with Guillermo helping on the screenplay, plot holes and clichéd horror writing really cut down what the final product could have been. I found myself laughing more than hiding my eyes, and I slept like a baby with all the lights off that night. As bad as I wanted it to, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark just couldn’t do what a few spectacular horrors have done, and joins the ranks of average and impression lacking horror.
Architect Alex (Pearce) is looking at a new chapter in his life. While fixing up and moving into the luxurious Blackwood Manor with his new significant other Kim (Holmes), he’s also welcoming back home his daughter Sally (Madison) who had been living with his ex-wife in LA. The manor itself is a sprawling estate, with many gorgeous Victorian stylings. When Sally is playing in the garden one day though, she stumbles upon a part of the already extensive house that still no one knew of: a basement. Alex finds a hollow part in the wall, breaks in to it, and low and behold, there’s a grand basement door someone had sealed up years ago. Of course the basement was sealed for a reason though, and upon its opening, Sally starts hearing voices calling to her. “Come play with us” they beckon, and her curiosity is spiked. Investigating the basement, she finds the source of the voices is an old cast iron ash pit that had been bolted shut. Again, her curiosity gets the better of young Sally, and she removes the grate covering the entrance, hoping to set free whatever seemingly playful spirits call to her. But as they say, curiosity killed the cat, and Sally’s curiosity may just have the same dire consequences…
Uneventful picture? Yes, but every other one is just so damn spoilery…
The biggest problem for me was plot holes and plot holes galore. This was sincerely disappointing considering Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark was selling itself mainly on the self-proclaimed strength of story. But when there are glaring oversights of obvious conflict resolution and fuzzy logic that don’t go along with the rest of the spoken back story, it’s hard to focus on how “impressive” the story is. In the film, Sally struggles to convince her elder’s that the tiny little creatures seen crawling through the vents are trying to lure her into their underground layer. When in one of the creepy crawly attack scenes though, Sally is able to crush one in between two sliding book cases, even detaching an arm we see falling to the ground. This is the exact hard evidence Sally needed to convince her parents that she’s being stalked by the very creatures she thought were her friends! Seeing is believing right?! About twenty people even bust in the room to see what Sally is screaming about, so one of them have to notice an unworldly arm on the floor or crushed mythic being, right?! You would think so, but the scene quickly cuts out as Alex grabs his daughter, and there is never a mention of the dead demon after. Say what you will, come up with your own defense as to how there’s some plausible way this instance was overlooked, but Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is riddled with glance overs in order to keep the story chugging.
Despite these set backs, there was some fun to be had though. Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark does manage to capture the haunted house feeling well at parts, with fun little scenes depicting the evil creatures gallivanting about with weapons from around the house. Some of the fun could also be found in the voices of the creatures when they whisper, but I’m not sure if that was intentional. Taking a voice cast that sounded exactly like the two high-pitched characters from the Youtube viral video “Charlie The Unicorn” mixed with Smeagol, I couldn’t help but chuckle when they called out to Sally. I’m not sure if I was supposed to find it eerie, but if I was, well I couldn’t have felt more the opposite. Thing is, for me, this added to the fun of the film, as the creatures did things like move and talk as a teddy bear. CGI creation was solid on these little buggers, so at least visually we were delivered an acceptable package. Set design surely picked the right house too, as the creepy Victorian atmosphere only enhanced the haunted surrounding. Aesthetically pleasing, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark was set up for success, but stumbles shortly after leaving the starting gate.
Suffice it to say, Del Toro’s presentation maybe very well be the most disappointing endeavor of the year. Even if he wasn’t directing, still having such a powerful force attached inspires a little hope. But if films such as Predators and this are any indication, it takes more than a powerful name “looking over” a project. Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark falls short on all “scary” accounts, getting one good jump scare in the cheapest manner. What haunted house entertainment there was to be had still doesn’t outweigh the apparent flaws, and I expected much better project from all parties involved. What could have been one of the greatest horror films of the year, becomes one of the biggest wastes of potential. Not a list you want to be on.
Final Rating: 5.5 incredibly neglectful parents out of 10
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark? I’m going to assume you probably should be…