Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was one of the few horror movies I’ve actually wanted to see this year. I love big old houses with a disturbing past and the premise of creepy little creatures going after a child seemed pretty promising. The trailer even managed to freak me out with that infamous what’s-hiding-under-the-bed-sheets scene, not to mention Guillermo del Toro’s involvement in the film.
I have never seen the original made-for-TV movie the film is based on, but hopefully I’ll be able to track it down one of these days and give it a viewing, though I hear it is pretty cheesy. Still, I had somewhat high hopes for this reboot, even though Katie Holmes was in it (not a big fan of hers). This past weekend I escaped the cruel end-of-summer heat to seek refuge in a near-empty theater to give Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark a looksie. Now, I had been looking forward to this film for quite sometime, so I purposefully didn’t read any reviews of the film and tried to avoid all whispered opinions of it prior to my viewing. I also tried to keep my expectations in check, since horror has been such a let-down to me recently.
The film begins with a little girl, Sally (Bailee Madison) moving back in with her father (Guy Pierce) and his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) as they are renovating a spooky old house in rainy Rhode Island. Little girl makes some interesting new friends who live in a hidden, sealed-up basement. Said basement is reopened, the little creatures are set loose upon the (mostly) unsuspecting household and “accidents” begin to occur. Sally soon learns the creatures want to claim her as their own, but no one believes her, until Kim begins some research on the house and learns some interesting information about the previous tenant and how he and his little boy disappeared. Can the creatures be stopped before they claim Sally forever?
This movie started out promisingly enough. The location was sheer perfection and I spent the majority of the film drooling over the amazing old house where the story takes place. In fact, I spent most of the film fantasizing about living there! Anyways, like I was saying it starts out promisingly enough with a jolting first scene and an introduction to our main characters and their rather dysfunctional family. The reveal of the creepy creatures comes very effectively as they whisper things to Sally throughout the old house’s ventilation system, but the middle part of the film lags as it focuses more on how Sally’s father believes her to be “disturbed” rather than believe her tale of monsters in the house and how he and Kim are always busy with the house’s renovations and don’t devote enough time to Sally. There’s a bit too much family drama and not enough unraveling of the clues of the previous tenant (a famous painter who left some rather interesting artwork behind). I think 30 minutes could have easily been cut as the film just drags on a bit too much.
I also thought the creatures should have remained in the shadows more, as I found their whispered promises far creepier than how they actually look. I also wish the film had played with light and shadows more, which would have made it more impressive visually and especially since light/dark is such a huge plot point. There were no real “scary” instances in the film (besides the creature hiding under the sheet, as seen in the trailer), which was disappointing. Sure, the whisperings of the creatures was spooky, but it was used so often that it lost all of its fear factor in a short time (it also didn’t help that the creatures sounded like Gollum from Lord of the Rings…“my precious!”)
However, it wasn’t all bad…I did enjoy the story (especially the backstory) and the fantastic setting, plus I was surprised that Katie Holmes didn’t annoy me much. The young actress playing Sally, Bailee Madison, did a truly amazing job and I’m sure she has a very bright career ahead of her!
Truthfully, though, the film just left me lukewarm and is unfortunately forgettable. I certainly didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either. The sad thing is that the film will probably fade from my memory and I won’t think about it until I see it hitting store shelves on DVD, and then I’ll just think “oh, ya…didn’t I see that?” and just walk on by.