Horror hits the cineplex once again this weekend. This time in the form of a remake of an obscure made-for-TV movie from the 70's. So, what makes this film any more special from the many remakes that come our way every year? Well, it's produced by one of the best film makers living today...Mr. Guillermo Del Toro. And...as I mentioned...it's a remake of an obscure made-for-TV movie from the 70's.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is the new horror film from first time feature director Troy Nixey. He really does a fine job for his first time out blending the tension well with the intensity the film throws at you. You would think that this was Nixey's third or fourth effort by the way the film looks and feels. He's probably the stand out star of this entire film and I'm sure he'll go on to do great things. I'm also sure that Del Toro lent some of his visionary expertise during filming, as well.
The premise gets a little ambitious in this retelling and strays in some ways in structure from the original. I remember the original being really creepy when I watched it decades ago. I don't remember it in detail...but, I remember it being a pretty decent little tale for a television movie. In this remake the couple who reside in the big dark mansion are sort of high end property flippers who go around restoring historic relics in which to resell them for a hefty price. The always reliable Guy Pearce plays Alex and the much hated Katie Holmes plays Kim. Alex's daughter Sally, played here by the very young and capable Bailee Madison, is sent by her biological mother from California to Rhode Island, where Alex is restoring the big mansion, to live with her father. So, already we see the biggest difference from the original in that Sally is in small child form this time around...whereas she essentially played the part that Katie Holmes is playing here...except...her name was Sally in the original....where it's Kim in this one. Got it? Yeah...the remake takes liberties in shifting the focus from the older Sally to a younger, more innocent Sally here in this version. But, when you take into account that Del Toro had a hand in writing the screenplay you'll understand the new premise. He usually works children into most of his films.
Here's where it's pretty much make or break for the film, tho. Bailee Madison is a decent enough actress at such a young age. If you don't attach yourself to her character here in this film...then, you'll pretty much spend the entirety of the film waiting for the credits to roll. Personally, I liked young Sally...and that enabled me to follow her through her journey into survival. Especially when given the fact that Pearce plays Alex as a self absorbed douche who only cares about landing the cover of some architectural publication and Katie Holmes plays Kim as Alex's newish girlfriend who is crippled with the ordeal of trying to make young Sally accept her as someone she can trust. So, the focus is purposely taken away from the adults in the film and instead given to Sally. Thus making it understandable for a grown lover of horror to stray from this film's core.
A word on Katie Holmes. I usually don't mind her as an actress and can't really justify the hatred that spreads throughout the internet whenever she's cast in a desirable project. She's a capable lead and lovely enough to captivate the eye. The fact that she's married to an egotistical lunatic in her personal life shouldn't detract anyone from watching a genre film that she's in. However, having said that...a Katie Holmes hater should actually love her character arc in this film which ultimately pays a great homage to the original.
Anyway, if you're still with me...it's not very long before the little creatures that you see a glimpse of in the trailers are introduced. In fact, they kind of open the film in a really cool scene from over a century ago to introduce what we're in store for. They are later explained to be little ancient creatures that tend to kidnap people for the purpose of replenishing their numbers. They prefer children because their teeth taste like candy to them. I liked the history and the compelling fairytale-like atmosphere that went into constructing the entire story. It really makes the film feel like a complete entity from start to finish.
Nixey's direction is more of adventure than it is horror here. Although the suspense hinges on Sally's character and whether you give a shit about her or not....it is executed with a good sense of tension and a good use of atmosphere. However, after the creatures are introduced fairly early...the novelty of their mystery is pretty much spent and they become less scary and almost comedic as the film progresses. It's a shame because I would've appreciated more of a subtlety to them. The CGI design of the actual creatures are really well done, tho...if you like that sort of thing.
In all, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is an effective spook-tale from the mind of a horror icon that seemingly has more in common with something like Gremlins that it does to The Orphanage (another Del Toro produced film). Still, it has more imagination than most films you watch these days...even if that imagination is derivative from a made-for-TV movie from the 70's. It's not the atmospheric PG-13 creepy film that Insidious was from earlier this year...but, it is a film that will captivate the senses for 99 minutes. If you don't make it to the theaters this weekend...I would stongly recommend it as a DVD rental when it comes out in a few months. It's been pushed back so many times that waiting a few more months probably won't make a difference at this point. You can even watch it back to back with the original film.
3 out of 5
Thanks for reading,