‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ disturbs

by David Dixon

Director Troy Nixey directs a talented cast to bring Guillermo del Toro and Mathhew Robbin's script to life. | courtesy of miramax films

It takes a lot of creativity to make fantasy creatures truly scary. For every Orc in “The Lord of the Rings” there is a subpar, dull menace in another movie. Remember Mr. Hyde from “Van Helsing”? The good news is the computer-generated monsters in “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” a remake of an old television film, are terrifying. From the way they talk to their strange physical appearance, they are heartless beasts with vicious motives.

The creatures live in secrecy in a mansion that by day is reminiscent of the lighter scenes in “Pan’s Labyrinth.” (Small wonder, “Pan’s Labyrinth” director Guillermo del Toro is the co-writer of “Don’t be Afraid of the Dark.”) Once all lights are out, the fantastic-feeling scenery is replaced with the spooky mood of an abandoned and haunted Halloween attraction.

With all this freaky tension, there should be an original and unique story, right? There is — kind of. The mythology of the villains is well thought out, but anticipating the actions of the humans is very easy. One such moment occurs when Sally (Bailee Madison), the sad and lonely child living at the home, cannot convince her dweeby father (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend (Katie Holmes) there are mysterious forces in the house. One can probably guess what happens shortly after this conversation. A shrink comes to try to help Sally overcome her delusions. Predictability like this is unquestionably the film’s biggest flaw and keeps it from being great. The dialogue is generally strong, so it is tough to say if the problem lies in the original teleplay or the imaginative screenwriting team of del Toro and Matthew Robbins.

Even though the flick is filled with clichés, the lead actors sell the material. Not only do Madison, Holmes and Pearce dig deep into their characters, they expertly handle the sequences of creepiness. Some say a horror movie can be enhanced by a memorable scream. Be prepared: Madison and Holmes have several opportunities to show off their vocal skills.

Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders’ score provides added tension to the dire stakes at hand. It is similar to the music of Bernard Herrmann, who was responsible for the soundtrack of the bittersweet family classic “Psycho.” Like the tunes found there, the majority of euphony is the sound of danger.

Will horror fans be satisfied with “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”? Hopefully, especially for those people who feared the boogeyman or the monster under their bed as a child. While there are some spine-chilling scare sequences, the most truly nerve-racking parts are the buildups. The jump-out-of-your-seat payoffs are there, but the scenes setting them up are psychologically disturbing for the audience.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is nerve-racking, as every suspense-driven adventure should be. While it is far from a terrific cinematic achievement, it makes one hope for a future that will have more than a few effectively eerie productions in a single year.

Information about “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” can be found at dontbeafraidofthedark.com.