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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 Jay Seaver

"A movie that really should have a chance to scare little kids."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Most everybody that likes horror movies is annoyed by PG-13; cutting the scariest or bloodiest bits out of a movie specifically made to scare people and gross them out so that teenagers can buy tickets is burning the village to save it. And yet, I wonder if the makers of "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" may have erred in not doing this. As much as grown-ups should enjoy its jumps and creepy atmosphere, this seems like a movie designed to scare little kids.

It centers on one - Sally (Bailee Madison) has flown from her mother's home in California to spend some indefinite amount of time with her father Alex (Guy Pearce), an architect who is restoring an old mansion in Rhode Island with his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes). Though Sally's sullen and doesn't want to be there, she's the one who stumbles upon a sealed-off basement (in which, we know from the prologue, horrible things happened a century ago). It should have stayed sealed off - while lots of old houses have pests inside the walls, this one's got little monsters.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is an old-fashioned haunted house picture, harkening back to a time when haunted houses were meant to be not just run-down, but also enticing as well. Secret rooms and ornate decor makes this one weird and fun to explore, while the mostly-complete restoration gives it just the thinnest veneer of safety. It's the sort of attention to detail and atmosphere that producer and co-writer Guillermo del Toro has built his career on - creepy with a touch of whimsy - and even if del Toro has handed the director's chair over to another here, the place certainly has his stamp on it. And while the film is set in the modern day, with laptops on desks and comments about gluten-free diets, it's not aggressively of the moment.

Del Toro is the guy whose name will (fairly or unfairly) most be associated with the movie, but it's on director Troy Nixey to execute, and he is well up to the task. The opening gives us a good idea of just how nasty things might get while keeping the important stuff hidden, and then manages a good slow burn that develops Sally's discomfort with her father and his girlfriend hand in hand with the creatures growing bolder. When the time comes to stop playing coy, he and the effects crew let loose with some furious scare scenes that are all the more effective because they steadfastly resist the temptation to fill them with comic relief. They're scary and operatic even though they could potentially be very silly, a nifty trick.

The cast executes well, although perhaps in a more low-key style than audiences might be expecting. Bailee Madison is something approaching excellent as Sally, an unhappy kid who doesn't overdo the brattiness or just come off as passive and martyred. Katie Holmes is also pretty good as Kim, hitting all the right notes of being nervous around her boyfriend's kid and then quite smoothly transitioning from trying hard to empathize with Sally to being a natural surrogate mother. Guy Pearce is a bit bland in comparison, doing what the plot needs him to do, but Alex does sort of become a generic movie character.

I've got a few issues with the end of the movie, some of which have to do with thinking it would be a bit better if it were a bit less R-rated, but some also with how the ending seems to be just a bit off from what the movie's been driving toward. The climax is also just a bit underwhelming - plenty emotional, but a smaller scene than some of the ones that preceded it.

Minor complaints, perhaps, considering that taken for what it is - an atmospheric haunted house movie that respects its audience - "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is quite good. It's polished without being slick, and puts as much effort into shivers as shrieks.

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originally posted: 08/26/11 06:31:32
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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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