Don’t be afraid of the Dark is a remake of an old TV movie from 1973. Del Toro has called it the scariest teleplay ever written. I vaguely remember it from when I was a kid, and I do remember it being scary. This version, though starting out pretty good, eventually causes me to, well, not be afraid of the dark.
It’s a pretty fair statement to say that Guillermo Del Toro has never truly failed. Some things may be better than others, but he’s a guy that’s done far better work compared to mediocre. Even when he’s just producing, or hand-picking a director, he’s making pretty good choices. So when I saw Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which is co-written by him, I figured I had to be seeing someone else’s imperfections on screen.
Don’t be afraid of the Dark is a remake of an old TV movie from 1973. Del Toro has called it the scariest teleplay ever written. I vaguely remember it from when I was a kid, and I do remember it being scary. This version, though starting out pretty good, eventually causes me to, well, not be afraid of the dark. And that’s a damn shame, because I’m pretty sure the idea was for this film to actually have the opposite effect. So, in Opposite Land, this movie is probably a hit.
The premise is decidedly staying old school: a young girl is sent by her mother to live with her father and his new girlfriend. She discovers little creatures living in the basement that want to make her one of their own.
This premise is very similar to the original, except it’s just a married couple in that, and the focus is on the wife. I don’t know if they thought it would be more frightening to have a child as the focus of the threat, but I guess I can see why one might change it. In the original, everyone believes the wife is overly stressed, or is going crazy. That’s a fairly tapped out idea, and yet, they pretty much do the same thing with the little girl. They blame these visions and sounds of creatures as the child’s way of acting out against dad’s new girlfriend she doesn’t like, or the stress of dealing with her newly divorced parents.
But despite all this familiarity, the film starts out creepy enough. The house her father and girlfriend live in is a huge mansion that they are renovating and hoping to get on the cover of Architectural Digest so they’re careers might take off. And when the young girl, Sally, discovers a basement no one knew about, Mr. Blackwood, the only remaining member of his ancestral home, is quick to mention that it’s dangerous for children to be playing down there. And when we hear the hissing whispers emanating from a grate down below, well, it does indeed bring minor chills.
There are some early scenes where we see the creatures in shadow, scampering under furniture, that are also kinda creepy. But soon we are shown perhaps too much of these things, and they become less than threatening. We fear what we do not understand, or cannot see. When we see too much, well…meh.
Guy Pearce plays the father and he’s fine, but he’s relegated to telling Sally that she’s seeing things, or that she should stop making things up. What he should have done is asked to have some other girl cast in Sally’s role. This girl is kinda creepy looking herself and I was starting to hope the creatures would take her away down that hole under the house just to get her off screen. And frankly she seemed to act a little too mature early on, which made her switch to screaming and afraid kind of a weird shift in her character. The girlfriend is played by Katie Holmes, and I suppose this is what everyone meant by her career benefitting by marrying Tom Cruise, ‘cuz, wow, this is a real career boost kind of film. Or not. Yeah, not.
The CG effects are fine and there are a few sincere scares here. But those scares are of the “gotcha” kind. Something pops out of the shadows, or some such thing. The early creepy mood soon dissipates and we are left kinda bored. Another inexplicable problem with the script is that there are some real illogical moments. For instance, these creatures hate the light. Sure people use flashlights when the lights go out, but only once is any power cut. All these people have to do is walk over to the light switch and flick the light back ON. But no one does. They keep being all panicky trying to shine their flashlights around. It makes no sense.
So, I have to think this was not Del Toro’s doing. I HAVE to think that. That doesn’t really make sense, either, though, because you would think he’s a pretty respected and powerful guy now and you’d think he would have a lot more say with projects he’s involved in, but hey, who knows.
Ultimately, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was underwhelming, even with an ending that gave a nod to the original, as well as improving upon itself. But still, too little, too late. This gets about two and a half kittenhands. Maybe check out the DVD or Netflix down the road.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, totally not being afraid of the dark.