Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

DBAOTD-2

C-

I first heard about Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark from its success at various film festivals in 2010. Written and produced by Guillermo del Toro, updating a highly respected made-for-TV horror film, I knew that this was definitely a film to keep my eye on. I was even excited enough to save the film in my Netflix queue, not knowing when the film would be released. Finally, the film received a theatrical release in late August and trailers start playing in theaters and on television. The first time I saw the teaser in theaters I was wildly impressed — it was one of the scariest and creative sneak previews I have ever seen.

Perhaps I had too much anticipation for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, but it will probably be one of the biggest disappointments of the year. It never quite reaches the levels of horror or imagination that I was expecting. Honestly, the film isn’t scary at all, which doesn’t damn it entirely, but certainly doesn’t help. Even though the film is rated R, it has a strange feeling of being aimed at children — of course the film follows a child, but it also taps into things that only children would truly find scary, such as what is lurking under your bed. While this could exploit a nostalgic response in all of us, I never felt that. Instead, the evil creatures in the film feel like something that could only come from a child’s imagination, which never came close to being something that frightened me.

We know that Guillermo del Toro loves a fairy-tale, as we’ve seen them pop up in a number of the films that he has directed and written. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark definitely follows the auteur’s voice, but it comes close to feeling like a knock-off. Perhaps everything gets lost in translation as del Toro doesn’t direct the film, and as newcomer Troy Nixey tries to slavishly capture the fairy-tale-gone-wrong style of the writer, it feels like an imitation. Because of this, key elements of the film feel cliche, such as the magical wonderland of the estate and the dynamic between father, daughter and step-mother.

By far the biggest problem, though, is that these characters and the type of characters that can only exist in a horror film. There is always an easy solution to escaping the horror (aka, get the hell out of this house), but it never seems like anything the characters could even imagine doing. There are even bits of dialogue throughout the film like “we’ll leave soon, but first let’s sleep or throw a party or anything else besides solving all our problems.” Even after everyone involved definitively understands what is happening, they refuse to leave, making me wonder if the people in this film are actually sado-masochistic.

As for a positive, the backstory that sets up this fairy-tale is unique and interesting — we can tell it comes from such a genius mind. And while the creatures themselves aren’t especially scary, they are well designed and the mix of puppetry and CGI looks good — again, coming from a man who has though of and designed some pretty awesome creatures in the past. It’s too bad that the film while built on steady blocks, ultimately crumbles.

tags: Bailee Madison, guillermo del toro, Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Troy Nixey.

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