Over the past few years Guillermo del Toro’s name has been attached to an endless number of projects. These ranged from The Hobbit (which actually came really close to reality for him) and the ill-fated Lovecraft adaptation At the Mountains of Madness over Dickens-mystery themed Drood to his take on Frankenstein. There has barely been a month without his name appearing in the movie news headlines. However fact remains that he hasn’t directed a single movie since his wonderful sequel Hellboy II: The Golden Army back in 2008. The appreciation for del Toro’s work has started ever since his splendid debut feature Cronos and it has never ceased, but it wasn’t until 2006 when he finally got a major worldwide critical breakthrough with Pan’s Labyrinth which was nominated for six Academy Awards and ended up winning three. Ever since then movie fans around the world are extremely eager to find out what he’s up for next. So even though there is no Guillermo del Toro-directed movie coming out this year, the remake of the 1973 TV-flick Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark looked to come closest to satisfy his fans’ desire for new material. Co-written and produced by del Toro, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’s marketing wore the del Toro trademarks on its sleeve. The gothic atmosphere, dark fairy tale-like surroundings, a haunting score – it all seemed to be there. So how does the actual movie hold up to that promise of del Toro greatness?
Not terribly well unfortunately. Let me start this off by saying that I have never seen the TV movie it is based on, so don’t expect any remake-to-original comparisons from me. Besides, a remake should be judged by its own merits anyway. The plot doesn’t break new ground. A young girl (Bailee Madison) is sent by her careless mother to live with her divorced father (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend (Katie Holmes). They live in an old mansion that the father is renovating in hopes to sell it. The girl starts hearing voices and creepy things start to happen, but of course no one believes her at first. The plot mostly follows a typical haunted house storyline – except that there are no ghosts. That’s a plot point that has been mostly made clear in the trailers already and with it come some of my issues with the film. The goblin-like fairy creatures that represent the film’s evil force simply never seem menacing enough. The film walks the like between family horror (though it is too gruesome for that) and adult horror (though it is too tame for that, the R-rating is inexplicable except for maybe one scene).
Del Toro’s influence is definitely palpable here as far as the vials are concerned. The gothic mansion, the play of light and shadow and several setpieces could have easily been from a movie directed by him and these aspects belong to the film’s strengths as well as its haunting score. However, unlike del Toro the first-time director Troy Nixey doesn’t manage to create interesting character and, worst of all, much suspense. This is the film’s primary flaw that can also be attributed to the lacking scariness of the film’s main evil. It is just not suspenseful most of the time, though it does try hard to be like in the Shutter-evoking scene involving Bailee’s Madison and a Polaroid camera. The lack of major scares was even more apparent to me having rather recently seen Insidious, a somewhat similar film that is just on a different level entirely as far as tension goes. The film’s grand finale is decently executed, but has several logical gaps. Going into the depths of those, however, would spoil some of the film’s crucial plot points. The actors do a serviceable ob all around, though Madison’s character is somewhat annoying during the film’s half hour.
All in all, it is a decent attempt at creating old school horror and in the visual department it succeeds. Too bad that it’s the only aspect in which the movie stands out.