[Movie Review] Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Guillermo del Toro brings fairies back to the big screen with Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, a 2011 remake of a 1973 t.v. movie. Unfortunately, this is no Pan's Labyrinth.

The movie tells the story of Sally Hurst (Bailee Madison), an apparently clinically depressed and certainly troubled eight-year-old girl. Her mother has shipped her off to live with her father, Alex (Guy Pearce), and her father's girlfriend, Kim (Katie Holmes), but failed to explain that it was a new living arrangement rather than a visit.

In a strange new home without any friends, Sally takes to exploring. When she stumbles across the purposefully forgotten basement of the Blackwood mansion, she is warned away by Harris, the elderly caretaker. But it isn't enough to stop her, and before Sally realizes what she's getting herself into, she's unleashed a horde of dangerous, malicious fae.

While Don't Be Afraid of the Dark has an interesting premise, there was something about it that just didn't work for me. Perhaps it was the vague time period in which the movie is set; with both cell phones and old Polaroid instant cameras being used in the movie. (While Polaroid apparently still makes these--I had no idea!--it seems highly out of place; I imagine most younger viewers won't even remember/recognize these.) Perhaps it was the less than stellar CGI of the fairies. Perhaps it was the fairies' ludicrous whispery little voices.

Or perhaps my biggest problem was with how ignorant all the characters acted, with the sole exception of Kim. Sally is willfully naive, going into the obviously dangerous basement after several different adults have warned her that she's likely to get hurt there. And when she hears eerie voices coming out of the ash pit down there, that only seems to encourage her. She actually get a wrench and removes the bolts standing between her and the obviously lying creatures who claim to want to be her friends. Her father's just as bad; Kim is a better parent than him by a very wide margin, as she at least pays attention to her fears and obvious depression. Alex, meanwhile, pays her about as much attention as a non-gardener would pay a houseplant.

By the end of the film, there are brief parts of the movie that I thought were really worthwhile. One is the final twist of the movie, so I won't spoil it; the other is a scene that gets into fairy mythology and references Arthur Machen. Had the movie benefited from more overt references to lore, I'm sure I would have found it much more enjoyable.

All that said, I can definitely recommend Don't Be Afraid of the Dark for Halloween viewing; it isn't the best movie by far, but it's not terrible, either. Just be aware before you watch it that it's rated R (that's ages 17+) and contains scenes that might be too frightening for some children.

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