DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK
Release Date:7th October, 2011 (UK)
Director: Troy Nixey
Cast: Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce , Bailee Madison
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a horror remake of the TV movie of the same name. It is a far better made movie, sporting great performances and cinematography but lacks real ingenuity and is somewhat forgetful.
The 1973 original was poorly made but had a great central premise. It is essentially a haunted house story, but instead of ghosts here there are little creatures tormenting the owners (this is 11 years before Gremlins). These tiny monsters are hurt by the light and so only come out in the dark. It was a complete B Movie, nevertheless the remake has done the job of taking the premise and making it relatively classy.
In both versions there is a couple who have just renovated an old house. The house in the original looked rather everyday and ordinary but in the 2011 version it is far more gothic and menacing, although maybe a tad predictable. While in 1973 we followed the wife who is being tormented, here we have a little girl. This is a brilliant move. It is a shame the movie has such a high rating, for it is the perfect children’s horror film. Just as Tim Curry’s clown in IT terrified any child who happened to stumble across the film, likewise here the monsters are after kids; more specifically their teeth. The teeth idea is also a new addition and a good one.
The film also has a new opening set in 1910 following previous unfortunate residents of the house. The sequence looks wonderful and has some genuine mystery for the first four minuets or so. After that the whole menace is revealed and it ends with a shock that is replicated at the end of the movie, totally taking away almost all questions and tension from the rest of the film. It is such a shame that filmmakers seem to be frightened of leaving things unexplained and here we have another example of narrative spoon-feeding.
The film stars Katie Holmes and Guy Pierce as the couple renovating the house. It is Holmes that shows how good she can be. Pierce is given the unfortunate roll of the constant denier, the Agent Scully to Holmes’ Mulder. Holmes, who can be irritating in films such as Batman Begins (that said Rachel Dawes was an awful character and thank God she is no longer with us), gives her best performance since the magnificent Go. She is both believable as a woman trying to befriend her boyfriend’s difficult daughter and as someone trying to survive and find the truth. But the real star of the film is Bailee Madison, as Pierce’s daughter. She plays a girl who is difficult to love at first; she is troublesome and rude, yet as the film goes on and her curiosity about these little creatures turns to fear we being to care and worry for her. So often child stars come off cold and fake but Madison’s performance as a flawed but fragile child is magnificent and she steals the show.
The monsters are… OK. The idea of these little things is great but neither the original or the remake has made them entirely convincing. The original had men in suits with giant masks that looked ridiculous. This version has CGI creatures that are realised pretty well, but they are shown too much. Less is more: a phrase now unknown to Hollywood. When the little beasts do attack it is well done, as they use small dangerous items for weapons and come in numbers, being then somewhat reminiscent of the little dinosaurs in The Lost World. Their whispering and talking is not very convincing and takes away a lot of their menace. Their fear of light is on the whole handled quite well but their eventual plan in the climax is so obvious you wonder why they didn’t simply go for that in the first place.
The film is produced by Guillermo del Toro, who was a big fan of the original. He wrote the screenplay with the man he collaborated with on Mimic, Matthew Robbins, the writer and director of *batteries not included (if that doesn’t make you want to see the film then I don’t know what will!). He handed the directing duties over to Troy Nixey; this is his first feature after directing the imaginative short Latchkey’s Lament. He is very good with actors and his first feature is lovely looking in terms of design and lighting. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a distinct stamp upon it, making the movie a tad forgettable.
The 2011 version of Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is better than the original, but it fails to achieve much originality. That said, it is a fun ride, if somewhat predictable due to that preview kind of element in its opening minutes, but good performances and some creepy moments make this very watchable.