Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (2010)

Guillermo del Toro is no stranger to grim fairytales. The Mexican director’s masterful Pan’s Labyrinth was a shrewd, unsettling exercise in measured chills and caustic creativity. So his decision to script and produce this creepy curio comes as a welcome return to horror for the influential moviemaker, and with Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark pirouetting on a similar premise – young girl encounters savage beasties that nobody else can see – it’s an enticing prospect. Sadly, del Toro isn’t able to bottle the fairy dust quite as easily this second time around, though he comes close at times.

Still dealing with her parents’ recent divorce, troubled young Sally (Bailee Madison) is sent to stay with her father (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend (Katie Holmes) in a Rhode Island mansion. The grown-ups are renovating the residence, but soon Sally discovers there are sinister things afoot as voices speak to her in the dark, and she catches glimpses of small, beady-eyed menaces.

Loosely based on a made-for-TV movie from 1973 (of which del Toro was a fan), Don’t Be Afraid… is best when it mucks in for old-school chills. Book-ending his film with bursts of dirty violence, first-time director Troy Nixey plays it smart by keeping his rat-sized nasties in the shadows and immersing proceedings in a suggestive gloom. Best of all is the teeth-gnashing opener, sure to have many squirming in their seats. It’s disappointing, then, that everything that follows merely struggles to match the opening stinger for bed-wetting terror. As inconsistencies begin to pile up (Sally manages to squish one foul creature, but fails to show her father the evidence), and the drawn-out climax takes too long to deliver, Don’t Be Afraid… becomes sluggish and repetitive. Sadly, that title proves prophetic – there’s nothing really here to be afraid of. 3/5

Be very afraid

Guillermo Del Toro returns to his horror roots with a Disney-backed scare flick…

“What the fuck was that?!” hollers Guillermo Del Toro. “I wrecked my pants!” No, he’s not just seen a shot of Li-Lo leaving jail, but the first bone-chilling trailer for horror flick Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, which he produced with newbie director/ex-comic artist Troy Nixey.

Written in the late ‘90s by Del Toro and Matthew Robbins, it’s a remake of an obscure made-for-TV ‘70s scarer starring Kim Darby (True Grit). Yes, remake – but don’t let that alarm you, the Pan’s Labyrinth director hasn’t sold the farm.

“We are not fucking chickening out,” he colourfully stresses. “We wrote and originally shot the movie for PG-13, and could do that without compromising the scares… But we were given a badge of honour. The MPAA came back and gave it a non-negotiable R for ‘pervasive scariness’.”

Sounds grim. The eight minutes of the fairytale horrible that TF has seen – the flick’s prologue, in which a maid has a teeth-gnashing encounter in the shadowy basement of a sprawling mansion – certainly had us gripped. Such is Del Toro’s enthusiasm that we can even overlook the fact that his film, which has a young girl facing unimaginable terror when she moves in with her father and his girlfriend, stars Mrs. Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes.

“I wanted to re-invent the story, make it much more contemporary,” Del Toro elaborates. “It’s scary, it’s classical, and the ending hits you like a motherfucker. The movie is serious as a fucking attack of gonorrhoea.” And twice as scary.

Via Total Film