I love a good horror film. On the flip side, there is nothing that gets my knickers more in a bunch than a bad one. I feel downright cheated when I see a bad horror movie, so much so that I almost always get the urge to walk up to the box office and demand a refund. I never have done that mind you, but it is my first instinct. It’s just that I dig the genre so much that it is a disservice when horror films are reduced to brainless splatter fests that fail to truly shock and awe.
Good horror films are few and far between, so when I walked into the theatre to see Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark I have to admit my hopes weren’t too high. While the movie poster did have the not too subtle declaration that it is being presented by critically acclaimed writer/director Guillermo del Toro, I couldn’t help but think it was a cheap marketing ploy to get a little name recognition attached to the film so that fans of the director’s work would give this movie a chance. Much to my surprise, the opening credits revealed that del Toro did in fact co-write the screenplay with Matthew Robbins. Okay, now things were looking up.
In great del Toro fashion, we are introduced to the young protagonist Sally (Bailee Madison), a child who has come to live with her father, played by the always captivating Guy Pearce and his much younger girlfriend, Kim, played by the adorable Katie Holmes. This is very reminiscent of del Toro’s 2006 masterpiece, Pan’s Labyrinth which also opens with a small female child who moves to live with her mom and her new significant other. But the similarities stop there.
Where Pan’s Labyrinth was a fairy tale full of danger, awe and wonder, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a fairy tale that has been twisted and distorted into something deadly, dark and horrific. Director Troy Nixey wonderfully captures del Torro and Robbins’ script with edge of your seat suspense against a grim and gritty backdrop. And while Pearce and Holmes don’t quiet mesh well as a couple onscreen, it is little Bailee Madison who really pulls us into this world as she discovers the house that her father and Kim are renovating holds a century’s old dark secret.
Sally, who at first tries to befriend this dark secret, soon learns that there is no befriending something that wants nothing more that to take her from this world. She struggles to get someone, anyone to believe her, but her father is too consumed with his career while Kim struggles to adjust to instant motherhood. While the film is neither too bloody nor too gory, it manages to offer a good share of suspense and scares that should satisfy any fan of the genre. While this film could have been elevated to another level had del Torro sat in the director’s chair, Nixey offers some solid direction and pacing of his own which allows the characters to breathe and develop without allowing the story to become stagnant. It is well shot and edited and the special effects work really well without ever going overboard.
With a great script and some solid acting and direction, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a fun but grim fairy tale/horror film which is well worth your time and money.
When Justin Carmona isn’t working on his creator-owned comics, Hired Gun or Dead Horizon or writing for Comics Bulletin, he can be found sniffing glue and eating paint chips behind your house.