Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Shadow Games: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark wins with spooky gloom and solid acting.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
The haunted house thriller can sometimes feel like a lost art, especially with advances in visual effects making it easy to conjure spirits out of nowhere. But like Insidious earlier this year, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a triumph of mood and tone that dutifully holds us in suspense until the very end.
Eager to renovate and sell their old and gothic Rhode Island mansion for a profit, Alex (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) are fastidious about trying to keep their affairs in order. Alex’s daughter Sally (Bailee Madison) coming to live with them throws the plans for a loop, but Kim tries to make the most of it by considering it a good opportunity to bond.
Then mysterious voices are heard in a fireplace. First they’re friendly and innocent, then not so nice. And Sally gets blamed for cutting Kim’s clothes. Sally also starts wandering the expansive grounds, becomes curious about places she’s specifically told to stay away from, and then (being a kid) of course pursues the forbidden. We know from the chilling prologue that there are small, Darth Sidious-looking creatures living below the house, and we quickly sense that this family is about to find out the same. It’s all very creepy and ominous, and as long as you’re in the mood for a good scare, a lot of fun.
First-time feature film director Troy Nixey, under the watchful eye of stylist extraordinaire Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), casts the film in almost constant shadow and darkness, which makes the creatures more haunting after we find out they’re afraid of light. Even scenes set during the day are overcast and gloomy, all of which correctly establishes a gloomy atmosphere that’s disturbingly foreboding. These creatures may be small, but this family is in for a darn good fight.
Having a child at the center of a good old-fashioned horror movie can be dicey, so it’s a compliment to say Madison is never annoying in the film’s true lead role. And fortunately, because the film isn’t over-laden with visual effects the actors are allowed to have a real presence and all hold up their end of the bargain.
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is deservedly rated R, though it’s not excessively violent nor particularly gory. Yes, there is some shocking violence and blood, but there is only enough to make you squeamish, not enough to make you lose yesterday’s lunch.
The end of the summer is a terrible time for any new release – burn out following the last four months (Thor now feels so long ago), kids going back to school, football season back in play – so it’s unlikely Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark will surpass $20 million its opening weekend. That’s OK – this is the kind of low budget ($12.5 million) film that often finds a solid following on home video. But my recommendation is to end your hot summer by enjoying this chilling experience on the big screen.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (3) Directed by Guillermo Del Toro • Starring Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Bailee Madison • Rated R • 99 min. •At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.