September 3, 2011

Movie Review: Don't be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Don't be Afraid of the Dark is a movie I had which hopes for. It is an odd title and seems to remind many people, that I talk to anyway, of the the 1990's Are You Afraid of the Dark? series. In actuality it is a remake of a 1973 made for television movie of the same name. I have not had the pleasure of seeing that older movie, bit I have heard good things about it. This go around hits the big screen courtesy of Guillermo Del Toro who produced and co-wrote the screenplay for first time director Troy Nixey. The resulting affair is an up and down affair that I ultimately enjoy, but not without reservations.

The film was revealed to he world a large through an incredibly effective, creepy, and jump inducing trailer. I loved it, but I saw I so often that I began to close my eyes when it played. You see, while jump scares do mo exactly scare me, per se, I am highly susceptible to the involuntary full body flinch. It can be rather embarrassing, but it happens. Still, the black screen with the whispering voices directly addressing the audience coming through in the surrounds followed by a little girl's discovery under the sheets is very creepy. This all gave me high hopes, besides Del Toro's involvement.

The movie centers on young Sally (Bailee Madison), she has been shipped off by her mother to love with her father (Guy Pierce) and his new girlfriend (Katie Holmes) in a creepy old mansion that the couple is restoring in hopes of achieving architectural fame and fortune. Her arrival sparks the start of some creepy happenings around the house.

It should be known that this movie is a slow burn in the old school style of movie making, this is not an in your face gore fest or a self-aware jaunt through the genre. There are a few moments of violence, but this is much more in the creepy, bump in the night piece of quiet foreboding atmosphere. It also seems to be more suited, despite its stupid R rating, for the younger set. Consider a dark fairy tale, something that feeds off the fear of the dark and the innocence of youth, not to mention the presence of some creepy little Gremlins-esque critters presented as real dangerous little bastards.

Sally is a troubled young girl, her mother does no seem to have an idea of what to do, leading to her shipping her daughter off to daddy. Her father is too busy to pay her much mind and his girlfriend, well, let's just say there is time needed for them to warm to each other.

Anyway, the dysfunctional family dynamic certainly plays a role in the unsettling feel of the film, but it is more due to the very atmospheric mansion and the presence of those critters in the basement. Malevolence steps up as the creatures, who initially claim to only want friendship with Sally, get mean when their friendship requests are rebuffed. These guys are downright nasty and with the typical clueless adults in this sort of story, Sally is left more often than not to fend for herself.

The movie has a delicious slow burn pacing and cinematography that is dripping with atmosphere, not to mention a score that works very nicely. It is all held together by a strong performance by Bailee Madison. There is something about the growing intense fear that she captures so wonderfully.

Like I mentioned earlier, this movie does have some issues. They are primarily of the writing variety. Simply put, it could have used a little fleshing out along with a pass for logic correction. There are some that happen that either do not make a lot of sense, are out of character, or are inexplicably ignored shortly after hey happen. Without giving away specifics, there is something that happens to a supporting cast member that is called an accident that anyone with half a brain should recognize as being anything but.

These issues have the potential to sink the production, but the atmosphere, pacing and a few other things cumulatively allow the movie to win me over. Your enjoyment is really going to come down to which elements affect you more.


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