Wednesday, 14 March 2012

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

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a 2011 remake of a 1973 made-for-TV horror film, directed by Troy Nixey and starring Guy Pearce (Memento) and Katie Holmes (wife of Tom Cruise). The movie is actually a Guillermo Del Toro vehicle, as he produces and co-writes the script. Del Toro himself admits he became involved in the project because he was terrified by the original film when he was a child. Here, he brings the story forward 39 years as a professional couple and their small child move into a 19th century mansion, with more than a few secrets beneath the floorboards.

The child in question is 8 year old Sally (Bailee Madison), who's been sent to live in Blackwood Manor with her architect father Alex (Pearce) and his interior designer girlfriend Kim (Holmes), Sally's potential wicked step-mother. Soon enough, Sally starts to hear strange voices from the walls and vents telling her to "come and play with us Sally", which inevitably prompts her to explore the house and yes, go down to the basement. She finds that the voices are originating from the house's sealed ash pit and decides it'd be a great idea to unseal the pit's hatch. This unleashes hordes of "scary gnomes" (actual dialogue) who proceed to terrorise her in order to obtain her tiny child teeth.

That's right, it would appear that these small creatures are actually modern day manifestations of the tooth fairy, and they will stop at nothing to obtain children's teeth. Quite rightly, Alex and Kim think that Sally is suffering from a case of juvenile insanity and immediately get the psychiatrist in to set things straight. However, the little imps soon become a bit too big for their impy boots and start attacking the adults as well, leading to a final confrontation by the ash pit.

As you may have already concluded this is a profoundly silly film and it should be noted that there were no mentions of the tooth fairy in the original film (though the creatures were still very impy). It is Del Toro's obsession with fairytales, exhibited in the greatly overrated Pan's Labyrinth (2006), that drags this film down, attempting to add an unnecessary dimension to a perfectly serviceable concept. In the original film it was the Kim character who was being tormented by the creatures, and the addition of a daughter-stepmother dynamic is certainly a welcome one. In fact, Bailee Madison is the star of the film, acting rings round a dull Holmes and a wooden Pearce and is one of the few enjoyable elements on offer here.

As silly as the fairy concept is, the creature design and special effects are outstanding. Looking halfway between a rat and a monkey (a Sumatran rat-monkey perhaps) , the creatures still manage to be quite intimidating despite their small stature. This is certainly an improvement on the original creature design, which I can only describe as tiny men in gorilla suits with peanuts for heads. As a result of the effects and the brilliant set design of the mansion, there is a certain eerie quality to the film but unfortunately it comes nowhere close to being a scary movie and is largely a very boring affair.

If Hollywood has to remake movies it's certainly better to pick obscure low-budget TV movies, however I would maintain that in this case, the original film is superior. The bold changes made are ambitious, and if you can watch a movie about tiny killer tooth fairies with a straight face then this may be for you. This film is bad, but unfortunately not so bad that it's good and as a result there was minimal enjoyment to be had here.

2 Stars **  

Did you like Don't Be Afraid of the Dark? Have you heard of the original?


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