The original Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which was broadcast on ABC television in 1973, is generally looked upon as a very sub-par film. However, it was scary enough to have made an impression on a youngster named Guillermo Del Torro. So much of an impression, in fact, that he used it as inspiration to make his own dark fairy tale, 2006’s Oscar nominated Pan’s Labyrinth. So, it is only fitting that he be the one to bring this story to a whole new audience in 2010. And, with all the talk of remakes being peoples’ veins of existence, these are the kinds I actually look forward to. Films from talented impressionable peoples’ youths that inspire them to make movies. Sometimes, they are not successful (Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho) and sometimes the passion shows through enough to jump the quality of the film (Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of King Kong comes to mind). So, what category does this remake fall into?
Well, I would say somewhere in between. Firstly, while he was busy prepping at the time was going to be his next project The Hobbit, Del Torro handed the directing reigns over to comic book artist Troy Nixey. Nixey does a fine job in setting up the suspense and scares, as we see a flashback to ancient times in the opening set piece. To me, there really could not have been a scarier time, as the old crooked gates, candles being used as the only source of light, and hovering shadows are enough to, if you lived back then, put chills up and down your spine. And, while the very first scene gives you the impression that this is going to be a torture porn filled film, Nixey immediately adds to the soundtrack sounds of the creatures that sound almost like gremlins, chattering away in the shadows and then attacking.
But, the said creatures are where the problems start to lie. Because, personally, I cannot stand when a director feels the need to incorporate CGI creatures into the mix. I Am Legend was notorious for this, as that film had a great first half. But, once the CGI creatures came into the mix, it really lowered the standard. When seamlessly mixed together with practical effects like Neil Marshall did in The Descent, it can be effective. And, as much as they try to do that here, the combination of them being so small and computer generated didn’t make them leave that much of an impression on me, with the exception of extreme close-ups while they were in attack mode.
Speaking of impressions, all I had heard about this film was how bad Katie Holmes’ performance was. Well, I beg to differ. I didn’t have that much of a problem with what she brought to the table here. The one performance I did have a problem with, and, this saddens me to say, is Guy Pearce, who played the role of Alex, a father that takes his daughter away from his ex wife (and her mom) to live with him and his new love, Kim (played by Holmes). Seriously, folks. Memento was over a decade ago, and the guy hasn’t had another role that has even come close to it since. When will the talent he displayed in that movie be taken advantage of? The little girl, played by Bailee Madison, is pretty good. With her chubby cheeks and understandably stand-offish demeanor, is so likable that when she starts exploring the outside of their house (does this plot sound familiar, Del Torro fans?) and runs into the creatures, you really fear for her life.
The direction Nixey displays isn’t bad, as his set-ups are nice as well as a few pay-offs (a jolting jump scare involving a teddy bear comes to mind). The only problem is that the film suffers from a slow middle section. However, he makes up for this with the attack in Sally’s bed, which is very nicely done, as Madison plays helpless very well.
The other thing about films such as this is that the creatures are scary until the mystery surrounding their origin is revealed. Take a look at the original Nightmare on Elm Street to see what I mean. Freddy was ultra scary until his origins are explained in the middle of the first film, and especially in the third one. And, while he remained scary, we now knew where he came from, making him less impressionable after that first one. The thing is, Del Torro knows this as well, and scripts perhaps the scariest scene of the movie involving a bath right at the same time as when the creatures’ origins are revealed. I would say that Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a good overall horror experience. Yes, the middle tends to drag, the CGI creatures won’t keep you up at night, and Pearce seems to be phoning it in. But, it has just enough jolts and scares to make it an entertaining experience. It also should be noted, that the ending was very off-putting and took me by surprise, which I cannot say happens too often.