Film Review: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Anyone who has ever had a problem with rats in their home will tell you that it can be a pretty terrifying experience. Many nights spent lying awake in the dark (if you are brave enough to switch the light off that is) listening to scuttling, scratching and gnawing from an unseen invader.  Horrible! So I sympathised with Guy Pearce’s character in ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ as he discovers something even worse than rats running around his new home. These tiny demons are intent on terrorising his family and dragging them back to their underground lair. It will take more than a visit from the council to sort this lot out.

‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ begins, in true Hammer style, with a creepy old house at night and two people in period dress (circa 1920s.) One of these, an artist named Blackwood, has clearly gone off his rocker and the other, his poor servant girl, dies horribly in the first few minutes.  Not long afterwards, Blackwood himself is carried off by diabolical forces into a deep hole behind the fireplace. Flash-forward to the modern day and we are in the same building. The new owners are Alex (Pearce), an architect hoping to restore the property to its former glory, and his partner Kim (Katie Holmes.) She is an interior designer and surely if any profession is ill equipped to battle the forces of darkness then it must be interior designers.

The pair has their heart set on the front cover of ‘Architectural Digest’, not just for the prestige but also to secure funding for their project. There are complications from the start. Alex has his young daughter, Sally (Bailee Madison), foisted upon him by his over-protective, yet conversely disinterested, ex-wife. He hopes that Sally will bond with Kim but the child will have none of it and just wants to run back to mum.  Weird things start to happen after Sally stumbles upon the mansion’s hidden cellar. The girl starts to hear voices whispering her name at night. She finds a tooth under her pillow and then an old coin. Kim’s dresses are found cut to shreds and poor Sally lands the blame. This is just the beginning.

Alex does not buy his daughter’s claims (if he did this would be a very short film) and he assumes that she is deliberately acting up. Even when a workman is seriously hurt in mysterious circumstances he remains an unbeliever but Alex is so caught up in his restoration that even if King Kong rampaged through the house he probably would not notice. Thank God for Kim, who starts to feel that there might be something in Sally’s stories. She launches her own investigation into the building’s past and Blackwood’s disappearance but is she too late to stop history repeating itself?

‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ is a remake of a TV movie from 1973. Overall, it is not too bad with some good jump-out-of-your-seat moments in the first half. One of the film’s producers is Guillermo De Toro, the director of ‘Hellboy’ and ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’.  Del Toro’s influence is evident in the look of the film, a retro-gothic style harking back to the horror movies of the past.  The creature design is by the all-powerful effects company Weta, whose impressive list of credits includes ‘Avatar’ and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. De Toro himself gives voice to one of the little devils.

The problem with the film is that it does not manage to maintain the same level of tension for the full running time and the reason behind this is hinted at in the title.  There is little more frightening than the unknown or the unseen and the film plays on this idea by utilising shadows and sounds to initially unnerve the audience.  This part works well but when the demons are revealed in all their glory, looking like Gremlins that have reached pensionable age, then the film throws away its advantage.  Once we know what we are dealing with, the element of fear is lost. What remains is a fairy tale for grown-ups with little Sally battling the tiny horrors whilst the adults remain blissfully ignorant of her plight.  This is still mildly entertaining but the mood has changed and the film changes into something less effective and more obvious.

If you do choose to see ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ then I recommend choosing a cinema with really good digital sound system.  The sound in the film is excellent, with the creepy whispering seemingly coming from all around you. This film reminded me of how much cinema, especially in this genre, relies on what you hear as well as what you experience with your eyes.

‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ was shot in Melbourne , Australia , which must have been handy for Guy Pearce as this is where he calls home.  The veteran Aussie actor Jack Thompson also appears in the film along with Alan Dale, who was once Jim Robinson in ‘Neighbours.’  Like Pearce,  Dale is not going to let a past in dodgy soaps stop him having a good career and these days he seems to pop up in everything from films like ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ to TV shows such as ‘Lost’ and ‘Entourage’. Perhaps he has dark and demonic forces working on his behalf or, more likely, just a really good agent.

Director: Troy Nixey
Cast: Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Alan Dale, Bailee Madison, Jack Thompson, Julia Blake
Runtime: 99 mins
Cert: 15 (UK)
Release Date: Friday 7th October

About Alan Diment

Is a freelance writer and film critic. A total film buff who lives and breathes movies.

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