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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look78.13%
Average: 6.25%
Pretty Bad: 9.38%
Total Crap: 6.25%

4 reviews, 8 user ratings

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Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)
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by Erik Childress

"Be Afraid. Be Pretty Afraid."
4 stars

It should be relatively easy to make a haunted house story. They are the quintessential "boo" movies. Unsuspecting people, malevolent presences, loud noises that would freak out Brick Tamblyn. Hell, people still check out the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. We love the archaic simplicity of ghosts or creatures who come out at night in a big, spooky house where anything can hide and yet so often it is a formula that is screwed up by horror makers. The Others, 1408 and the animated Monster House have been standouts this century, but the more popular Paranormal Activity films have been deadly bores compared to them and this year's more entertaining Poltergeist-throwback, Insidious. Guillermo del Toro, a filmmaker who has never seen an idea he wouldn't shamelessly lift as his own, has also worked within the haunted walls of the subgenre as a director (The Devil's Backbone), but even more successfully as a producer with The Orphanage. This is where Del Toro finds himself on the long-delayed remake of the 1970s television film (due to studio finances more than lack of faith in the project) and no doubt his name will draw curious fans into the fold, especially as a credited writer. Though, occasional visitors into the haunted house fray may want to peek their head in as well, if only to see how quickly they peek out.

Blackwood Manor has a history; albeit one known more to the audience in a creepy prologue than the modern-day inhabitants. They are Alex (Guy Pearce), an architect involved in restoring the house for a shot at a career-boosting magazine cover, and his girlfriend, Kim (Katie Holmes), who is about to meet his daughter from a failed marriage. Young Sally (Bailee Madison) arrives on a plane by herself and is clearly more trepidacious about meeting her potential replacement mom. Kim is in no better a position and awkwardly does her best to welcome the girl. A little less welcoming is the groundskeeper, Mr. Harris (Jack Thompson), who is not as gentile when it comes to telling Sally where she shouldn't wander around the Manor grounds.

Sally's snooping leads to the discovery of a hidden basement. Not just another darkened corner, but the kind of grandly designed cellar that only adds to the house's mystique and maybe even its value. Something lurks within the bowels of the furnace though. Their whispers can be heard even if they cannot always be seen as they like to venture out in the absence of light. They begin terrorizing the little girl in every which way while her screams wake the adults and cause them to think within the psychological rather than supernatural box. Alex is increasingly worried about his investment chances with the magazine while Kim begins to wonder if Sally isn't just doing this for attention.

Whatever rules these evil little creatures play by, it may be best (as my own mind has) to just block them out entirely and consider them to be malevolent little pests who deserve a good squashing. There is some backstory motivation involving teeth and soul ownership of the awakener, but these are not prevalent details to enjoy the terror they inflict in escalation. Sound has always been as important a factor in haunted tales as the silence, though can also be occasionally overused as a punctuation, just as gore often displaces actual fright. The shrieks of the homunculus creatures hereby reinforce the horror rather than used as a cheap annoyance to stimulate a passive audience. Their attacks are indeed horrifying and the creature design is nasty enough without having to go for oodles of red matter to make their presence felt.

For certain the greatest paradox of any haunted house experience is why the affected family never just leaves. This has recently been solved temporarily by the makers of Insidious and the Paranormal Activity films by infecting said families with ghosts who have them marked rather than the domain itself. The television version from 1973 simply kept the disbelievers in check until it was too late to save their loved ones. Del Toro and co-writer Matthew Robbins (responsible for 80s classic Dragonslayer and an early Spielberg collaborator) know the milking of a young girl's night terrors will not be enough to make a parent just up and leave. Nor can Sally get very far on foot when she has finally had enough. There remains a strong undercurrent, however, of the child remaining trapped between a parental separation and trying to make it work with this new stranger in her life. A large part of a child's psychological development is their ability to trust the adults who purport to know best for them and sometimes it is the only defense they have.

The 1973 telefilm may have been scary-as-hell for its time, but has hardly aged into anything but a somewhat laughable 73-minute bit of moody nonsense, helped in no way by the angular means used to create the little monsters. Leave it to Del Toro to age the 2011 version though by sucking us into what we believe might actually be a period piece with Kim's Polaroid flash camera. Until we see a cell phone and realize that the only reason for her to have such an antique is that it was used as an effective deterrent in Gremlins as well. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is not cheeky or campy in any way and specializes in pure dread to terrific results by first-time director, Troy Nixey. Most of the violence is of the aftermath variety and though certainly intense at times may not exactly warrant the "R" rating associated with the nervous parents of the MPAA. Squeamish as they may be, there is a degree of certitude that they would not be smart enough to move their kids out to safety either. After all, it was the very nightmares of Guillermo Del Toro inspired by the original that helped turned him into the filmmaker he is today. As the little creature behind the walls on superior films like The Orphanage and Julia's Eyes, he is finally producing something worth listening and paying attention to rather than just the same old story.

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originally posted: 08/26/11 03:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

User Comments

9/12/17 morris campbell dont be afraid of watching something else it sux 1 stars
2/11/13 Langano Wow, what a shit film. One of the worst I've seen. I actually tossed the dvd into the trash 1 stars
11/09/12 Sam Spade script full of mistakes finally ruins a fine production 3 stars
1/25/12 mr.mike Slight improvement on the TV-movie, which was'nt great to begin with. 3 stars
1/17/12 action movie fan good sets and effects but do be afraid of a dull silly screenplay. 2 stars
8/30/11 Sean Davis Was extremely disappointed. There was nothing to be afraid of! 2 stars
8/29/11 Jonathan Sullivan I think we saw different movies :-P 2 stars
8/28/11 Louis Blyskal Great 4 stars
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  26-Aug-2011 (R)
  DVD: 03-Jan-2012


  DVD: 03-Jan-2012

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