Friday, September 2, 2011

Review: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Usually anything with Guillermo del Toro’s (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) name on a product, I tend to get very excited about. I loved Hellboy 1 and 2 for the great character design, action and casting of Ron Pearlman as Hellboy. I thought Pan’s Labyrinth was brilliant, and even enjoyed Blade II. And I know he didn’t direct Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, but he did help write it and his books, with Chuck Hogan, The Strain and The Fall were well written, suspenseful and entertaining, so I had high hopes for this movie. My hopes however, were sadly deflated. I don’t know if this is more Del Toro’s or first-time director Troy Nixey's fault.

Let’s get this out of the way first; Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark does not deserve its “R” rating. Not at all. And after seeing the movie, I had to do a little research to find out why it even got the “R” rating. And here is what Del Toro said about the movie in this article:

This picture, which was developed with Miramax but in the wake of the division’s closure will be released by Disney, was rated R despite filmmaker ambitions to the contrary. “We originally thought we could shoot it as PG-13 without compromising the scares,” Del Toro said. And then the MPAA came back and gave us a badge of honor. They gave us an R for ‘pervasive scariness.’ We asked them if there’s anything we could do, and they said, why ruin a perfectly scary movie?”
However, there are very few scares in this movie. In fact DBAOTD is such a slow burn trying to build tension; it becomes more agonizing than suspenseful. Honestly, there is nothing to be afraid of in this movie.

This image of Katie Holmes is more interesting than anything in the movie...
sadly she never dresses like this in it.

Set in Rhode Island in a very large 19 century home, the story begins when Sally (Bailee Madison), a brooding, depressed, and Adderall-taking young pre-teen, is picked up from the airport by her father, Alex (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend/soon-to-be new wife, Kim (Katie Holmes). Sally is obviously upset having to leave her mother in L.A. to live with them and immediately resents Kim, and her personality also proves difficult for Alex to handle as he tries to renovate and restore the centuries-old house to sell for profit while trying to deal with her.

Sally's anti-obedience and complete disdain for her new living arrangements causes her to branch-out and explore the property-lush with a giant hedge-garden and a coy-fish pond-to find a covered basement. The basements unveils the previous owners history and his art. For Sally, it invokes curiosity; which is piqued when she hears whispers and voices calling her name through a bolted furnace.

Like all kids, Sally ignores the restriction of going to the basement by her father and Kim, unbolts the furnace, and provides the creatures of this movie their freedom to terrorize.

Beware, ye be monsters.

You would think this is where the movie takes-off and the thrills and chills start coming. Instead you’re left with little rodent-like creatures that look sillier than scary, play annoying and childish tricks more than terrify, and don’t like light.

This is especially disappointing giving Del Toro’s work for creatures. His angel-of-death creature in Hellboy 2 is truly terrifying, and that’s not even a horror movie. Hell, that’s just one character in one movie that has hundreds…

Why wasn't this in the movie?

There is also no sympathy for Sally either. When things actually do start to get bad and no one believes her, it’s hard for the audience to feel for her as well because she is completely unlikable. Alex and Kim (which surprising Holmes does a very good job of portraying a semi step-mom trying to win over Sally), the nanny, or anybody that tries to do anything nice or help Sally, her annoying state of self-loathing makes you root for the damn creatures to go ahead and take her away already.


That really is the biggest problem with the film; the gremlins never really give a sense that they are a threat most of the movie.

What we get instead are gremlin characters that look like rats running around with scissors, knocking over lamps, and pushing books off of shelves. I could have lived with the poor design of the gremlins, if a threat was actually present but there really isn't. Aside from tearing up a few dresses, knocking down paintings, and shredding a stuffed bear, you never get a sense that anyone is really in danger. Even the one person who does get attacked by the creatures, doesn't die.

This is a much scarier rendition than what's in the movie.

Plus the hokey “one parent believes; the other thinks it’s her depression” theme, just plays off more like a child’s nighttime spook story than an R-rated adult horror movie. Nixey tries his best to create atmosphere within the house, basement and garden to build up slow tension, but someone forgot to tell him that with that you need a pay-off. It’s as if though him and Del Toro rest solely on the fact that they think the creatures in-and-of-themselves are scary enough.

And when you get the feeling something terrible will actually happen, it doesn’t. There is no scare or horror in the movie until the very final last five minutes of the movie, which actually turns out to be pretty cool, but ultimately unsatisfying as you never see the creature’s lair or explore really anything into what they are except for one short scene in a library.

The movie isn’t without some merit though. Pearce and Holmes do a good enough job expanding their characters, and the flashback at the beginning of the movie and the final scenes are pretty good. But, that’s like getting a double-decker sandwich with the bread on both ends being the tasty part and the meat filler.

Rating: 2/5

No comments:

Post a Comment