A young girl is sent to live with her estranged father and his girlfriend at their new home. The father, Alex has plans to spruce up the home with the help of his interior decorator girlfriend, Kim. The previous owner of the home was a famous painter who mysteriously disappeared. Alex's daughter, Sally, soon discovers the cause of the painter's disappearance. Written by
Guillermo del Toro is a man in Hollywood that nearly everyone has something flattering to say about. He's a visionary, a creative genius, and a breath of fresh air when the majority of Hollywood films are so focused on turning redundancy into a cash cow. But the films del Toro produces are just as intriguing as the ones he writes and directs. The Orphanage is one of the more original horror films in recent years and Splice, despite whether you liked it or not, delivered one of the most amazing audience reactions I've ever experienced in the theater. So along comes Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and while it doesn't leave the impact The Orphanage or Splice did, it's still a film that is done incredibly well.
The lighting and the atmosphere of the film is what will more than likely strike you first. You're taken one hundred years into the past at the beginning of the film (according to the summary of this book) and it feels authentic. Candle light is the only light source and Emerson Blackwood's house is on the best side of the word magnificent. The tone is dark and the atmosphere is thick with shadows. In the present, the house is being remodeled by Alex (Guy Pearce) and Kim (Katie Holmes). It's still a beautiful house. Judging by the house itself, it's kind of similar to The Haunting remake from 1999 except Owen Wilson isn't around to lose his head and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a much better film.
We're then introduced to Sally (Bailee Madison), Alex's daughter who clearly doesn't want to be there. Most of the stupid things in the film can be credited to Sally. That and she's a spiteful brat for half of the film. After stumbling onto an undiscovered basement, Sally hears voices coming from a furnace that's clearly been bolted tight for a reason. After doing exactly what you expect her to, the source of those voices is unleashed in hopes of feasting on human bones to replenish its army. The creatures in the film are reminiscent of both the small demons in The Gate and the ragdolls in 9. I found it an odd coincidence that the creatures were hurt by bright lights and only came out at night much like the trolls in Trollhunter, which I had just seen the day before. However, the intent of these creatures is much darker than anything it reminds you of.
The creatures are fantastically creepy, as well. Seeing this movie in surround sound is a must. Hearing these little buggers whisper all around you is half the fun of the film. It almost makes you feel like you're hearing things. When they're not driving you insane or hiding from the light, the creatures are off being incredibly violent and leave most of their actions on-screen. Their scene with Mr. Harris comes to mind and it's almost overwhelming. You can see where the scene is going to go, but it's still pretty brutal. The scene with Sally in the bathroom and the one where they're slowly approaching Kim as she slips into unconsciousness are surprisingly ghoulish, as well.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark has an amazing atmosphere. The set pieces are extravagant, the lighting is brilliant, and its creatures are ugly and menacing. The film fully embraces its own macabre nightmarishness, which is certainly the most charming thing about it. But it doesn't come together in a way that's completely satisfying. The actors seem to do the best with the material they're given, so the writing is more than likely to blame. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark falls into typical horror movie fluff as characters make stupid decisions, character development seems a bit rushed, and the screenplay is fairly dull for something with del Toro's name attached to it. Nevertheless, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark features some very vivid and wicked imagery that makes the entire journey worthwhile.
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