With Guillermo del Toro’s talents at the pen on “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”, there would certainly be some solid cause for excitement when sitting down to watch the new horror film. Del Toro has certainly made a highly original and fun impact on the worlds of horror and science fiction the last fifteen years, giving moviegoers thrilling films such as “Pan’s Labyrinth”, “Blade II” and the “Hellboy” films. Now his latest effort has been sharing screenwriting duties with Matthew Robbins, adapting a 1973 teleplay from Nigel McKeand. In an unfortunate turn, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” feels a lot like an adaptation. It starts off with great promise until the train finds the genre rail and rides it all the way to the station.
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” centers around Sally(played by Bailee Madison, who many would recognize as the angry little girl in “Brothers” or the far lesser “Just Go With It”), a young girl sent to live with her father and his new girlfriend(played by Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes, respectively). After a plane ride taken all by her lonesome, Sally is, of course, feeling out-of-sorts and unwelcome. Her new home is one of restoration; a project for her father and his love interest. They see the house as a thing of beauty, but to a child, the house appears dark, dreary, and unbecoming. Heck, even this reviewer thought the house seemed a little spooky.
When Sally is exploring in the gardens near the house one day, she stumbles upon glass windows that show a basement under the house. Her father takes down the wall that was sealing up the entrance to the basement, and before long Sally is hearing voices coming from the old-style fireplace in the basement. The voices tell her what she wants to hear: that they want to be friends, and when she is at her most vulnerable, that her parents don’t love her. She removes the screws from the fireplace cover, but she soon realizes that the voices belong to little creatures that might not be so friendly after all.
After a terrific flashback opening, the film never again reaches that level of suspense or excitement. Surprisingly, the film seems to hit every single cliché when it comes to the parents not believing Sally’s claims. There is even the obligatory psychiatrist visit to the house. Everything that tends to frustrate the viewer with these clichés is certainly putting in work here. It is probably more surprising because del Toro’s name is on the film, and his name is on the screenplay as well. The monster movie is not unique, but these little creatures are, and it would be a great thing if they were just given the right story to play in. The opening of the film set a tone that the rest of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” didn’t follow. Horror fans that must have their big-screen fix might find their appetite whetted but might still be a little hungry when it’s all said and done. Everyone else might be better off waiting until this hits the home rental circuit.
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is playing now in theaters all over McHenry County.