Film: Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark
UK Release date: 20th February 2012
Director: Troy Nixey
Starring: Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Bailee Madison, Alan Dale, Julia Black
Running time: 99 mins
Reviewer: Adam Wing
It’s not often a director gets the chance to go back and make a movie that inspired him growing up, but Guillermo del Toro was a big fan of the 1973 version of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, so I’m sure he was thrilled to be given the opportunity to co-write this latest remake. The original TV movie told the story of a young couple that inherit an old mansion occupied by small demon like creatures, goblins determined to make the wife one of their own. The remake puts less emphasis on the couple and follows events through the eyes of a daughter instead. Guy Pearce plays Sally’s father, with Katie Holmes filling the role left behind by his estranged wife. Sally’s parents have decided that she should live with her dad and his ‘young’ girlfriend for a while, but Sally (Bailee Madison) isn’t interested in making new friends and hides herself away from the rest of the world.
It’s obvious from the start that Del Toro had a hand in this remake, the world in which it lives is reminiscent of some of his finest work. Pan’s Labyrinth is an obvious influence, and the fairies that live behind the fireplace are similar in design to the feisty little critters from Hellboy 2. Del Toro himself has cited the work of writer Arthur Machen as an influence on the origin of the species, and even if you’re not familiar with his work, it won’t take long to realise that a tyke like Tinker Bell would get eaten alive by this lot. They are magical of course, and they do have a thing for teeth, but you don’t have to leave them under your pillow because they’re more than happy to get their own. Nixey based the design of the fairies on mole rats, which goes someway to describing how fiendish they appear on film.
Sally discovers a dusty old fireplace in a hidden basement in the mansion. One of the workmen restoring the house warns her not to go inside, but we’re entering the realm of gothic horror here, he might just as well tell her he’ll be right back. The creatures inside start to call her name and soon enough she opens the sealed door, finding some old teeth inside and a whole world of trouble. The fairies are determined to make Sally one of their own, and they’ll kill anyone that gets in their way. If Nixey was aiming for an opening similar in scope to Pan’s Labyrinth and even Spirited Away, he’s succeeded in his aim. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark feels like a welcome break from horror tradition, made all the more appealing by its young female lead and a fine line in fairytale clothing.
The film design is gorgeous throughout and the nasty little critters come with fire and venom. The filmmakers had originally set out to make a PG-13 movie, but the MPAA awarded it an R instead, for what they described as “pervasive scariness”. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark certainly doesn’t hold back on the nastiness, and once free, the tooth fairies wreak havoc like its going out of fashion. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bailee Madison (Sally) needs professional help in later life, because not only is she called upon to fend the blighters off, she’s also asked to hold the film together. Madison impresses at a very tender age, and thanks to her the film has at least one character worth rooting for. The adults wouldn’t look out of place in a Charlie Brown sketch because their roles are pretty much redundant. The characters played by Pearce and Holmes could’ve been played by anyone, such is their significance, in fact the film may have benefited from casting lesser-known actors instead.
It’s not a perfect night in by any means, the plot of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark amounts to little more than evil fairies running amok in a gloomy mansion. Significant developments and explanations are found wanting and some of the plot devices are hokey at best. Most of the characters are disposable and much of what we witness has been done before in films like Cronos, Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy - not that I’m really complaining about that. However, there’s one reason to watch Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark that I haven’t mentioned yet. Fans of TVs Neighbours will be delighted to learn that Mike and Jim have been reunited at last - Alan Dale makes a welcome appearance as yet another character called Charles.
Del Toro’s fingerprints are all over this one, lending his love of the supernatural to a fun night in. It’s lightweight for sure but darker than you might expect, and even though Nixey begs, borrows and steals from all and sundry, it has its heart in the right place – shame we can’t say the same about its teeth. Madison excels, as do the fairies, and the talking teddy should save you money come Christmas time. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark will never be considered a genre classic, but you'll be surprised at just how much fun it is.