Director – Troy Nixey
Cast – Bailee Madison, Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Jack Thompson, Julia Blake, Nicholas Bell, James Mackay, Garry McDonald, Edwina Ritchard, Alan Dale
Release Year – 2011
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I was pretty stoked when I first read about this piece due to Guillermo Del Toro’s name being attached to it, and also from being a fan of the original and very atmospheric 1973 TV effort of the same name. We have been bombarded with constant remakes of popular classics over the last 10 years, but I had yet to notice a remake of a lesser-known TV film, so for once I was quite excited to see a remake for that reason. Going into this experience I had heard mostly negative remarks, but I figured the remarks were nonsense and that as long as this piece followed the feel and template of the original then it would be a good watch, and that was exactly the case with Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.
When young Sally(Bailee Madison) is sent to live with her father(Guy Pearce; Ravenous, Prometheus, Memento) and his girlfriend(Katie Holmes; The Gift) in a large antique mansion on the east coast, she immediately realizes her new life will be far different from her life on the west coast. Soon after moving in Sally is bombarded by voices coming from deep within the home, and after they uncover a hidden basement they unleash a long-hidden evil that wants to make Sally one of its own.
For starters, I must say that I fully believe that most of the hate I have heard regarding this film comes from those who had no clue that this film was a remake and went in expecting a very different film and were not happy with what they saw. The others most likely just did not have a taste for films like this one, which is somewhat reminiscent of the feel of The Gate(also being remade) – fun, creepy, and with a focus on children. Those of you who enjoyed the original though should find much of the same great elements that it provided, thanks much to a devout screenplay from Guillermo del Toro and his writing partner Matthew Robin’s adaptation of the original teleplay.
The overall storyline is much like the original, which I loved due to my enjoyment of films involving people moving into new homes and finding horrors that they never saw coming. Sally is the main focus of the film, as we watch her deal with the emotional and mental bombardment she receives from two different types of parenting. Her mother is much too busy for her and has her fixated on taking a pill for every little problem she faces, as well as restricting her from eating typical foods that millions of healthy people eat on a regular basis. Her father, Alex(Guy Pearce), is much the opposite of her mother – a kind and simple man who cherishes hard work and local community, but is not fully prepared to deal with the emotional handful that Sally has become due to her mother. Sally’s problematic boredom is somewhat relieved when she begins to venture out to find the source of the voices she has been hearing ever since entering the home, which leads us to the introduction of the hidden basement within the home, and that is where the horror really kicks in and never relents, only growing in intensity for the rest of the film.
The horror starts off small, consisting mostly of the small creatures within the basement causing a ruckus by destroying personal belongings, but soon enough they up the ante in their attempt to bring Sally down the ash furnace and into their world, in which she will never return – a fate suffered by those residing in the home before them. As expected, Alex and his girlfriend Kim(Katie Holmes) do not believe Sally’s explanations to the mischievous events going on, in which she tells them that little monsters within the basement come out when the lights are off and cause havoc, but of course they too will come face to face with the horror soon enough. Del Toro and Robbins’ screenplay is very well written, giving us plenty of character work/play and keeping us engaged with constant developments and lots of instances of horror that make this 99 minute watch flow very well, however it did not nearly feel as though it were a 99 minute film but a film closer to the 120 minute range, which results from the numerous creative elements thrown into this story. The dialogue is good and no scenes felt rushed or useless, which I expected coming from two men that gave me one of my favorite horror films, Mimic.
First time director Troy Nixey was fantastic in this debut, giving us incredible atmosphere and beautiful cinematography, which may have come as a result of del Toro having a heavy hand on the project. The home used was beautiful yet equally creepy, which was the case with all of the sets used in this gloomy experience. We get good character performances from everyone involved, and the horror was executed just the way I expected it to be: as it should have been. Some have balked at the horror this film provides, but it came off just as it did in the original, which was a fun, sometimes silly, but definitely spooky horror that I found much joy in and a break from the usual cliches we get in the genre. This effort obviously kicked things up a few notches in comparison to the original due to the original being a TV movie, which was definitely fine by me as we were given a few good shocks here and there, especially during the scenes involving those poor folks who got vehemently dragged down the ash furnace in the dark creepy basement.
Overall, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a great remake that employs the look and feel of the original and gives us more horror as well. Writers del Toro and Robbins were excellent in their writing execution and giving us a solid, engaging story, and first-time director Troy Nixey executed their adaptation to give us a great horror experience. The atmosphere is incredible and the film well shot, making this a visually engaging film that is sure to give good horror to all of its viewers, so long as they know what they are getting into.