Friday, 9 December 2011

Film Review: Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark

Guillermo Del Toro co-produces this remake of the notoriously creepy TV movie Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, a film which spooked a generation of children when it was first aired in 1973. Instead of a childless woman being the lead character here, we are given the obligatory Del Toro child protagonist. However, in spite of the Del Toro hallmarks this haunted house horror exhibits, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is certainly no Pan's Labyrinth.

When young Sally (Madison) is sent to stay with her father, Alex (Pearce), and his new girlfriend Kim (Holmes) at the 19th Century mansion they're restoring, her curiosity leads her to a secret basement in the house. Rasped whispers begin talking to Sally through the vents, goading her into releasing what turns out to be malevolent little sprites who feed on children's teeth.

Clearly there is more than a hint of the indelible thematic fantasy world created in Pan's Labyrinth, the manse's garden for example exhibiting more than just a shade of familiarity. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark's setting is undoubtedly the film's biggest strength, brimming with creepy gothic tropes, doleful lighting and onerous oak panels. This is your archetypical haunted house, complete with an atmosphere of dread waiting in the shadows to tug at your foot should you let it linger outside your duvet. Unfortunately this is derivative as Don't Be Afraid of the Dark can't seem capitalise on this, failing to do anything unique with its toothsome set up.

You can almost tick the boxes here. There's a troubled little girl, adults too self-absorbed to listen to her and of course the obligatory crabbed world-weary custodian who knows more than he's letting on. But for all it does to create a creepy atmosphere, this film never takes hold emotionally. Save possibly Sally, you don't really care all too much for the characters who remain largely one-dimensional. Pearce is the skeptic man of the house, Holmes the mother-in-law to be resented by her partner's daughter while Sally feels abandoned and unwanted by her biological mother and threatened by her father's new relationship. As for the evil pixies lurking in the basement who display an uncanny ability to wield stabbing implements such as scissors and screwdrivers, they won't exactly terrify you. Indeed, you'll probably be more surprised how these rat-like imps from the netherworld know how to switch off a power breaker.

This dark twist on the origins of the tooth fairy doesn't do anything unexpected, with its third act sealing its condemnation to the pit of disappointment. You'll see the frights coming a mile off as Don't Be Afraid of the Dark employs standard scare tactics rather than anything imaginative like  in Del Toro's previous works. While richly atmospheric, it probably won't make you think twice about switching the lights off at night.