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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark Curiously Awful

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Directed by Troy Nixey
Written by Guillermo Del Toro and Matthew Robbins from the 1973 screenplay by Nigel McKeand
Film District, 2011

We’ve been seeing trailers for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark for about a year now, and it finally got dumped into the back-to-school quagmire of late August.  The trailer was pretty cool, with a quick jump-scare of a demon showing up under the covers of a peering little girl’s bed.  But now it’s apparent that’s all they wanted to show you in the trailer, because this is pretty much your everyday haunted house-style scary movie that is way too polished to scare anyone.

Guillermo Del Toro can’t do any wrong in many people’s eyes.  While I’ve enjoyed his two Hellboy flicks, I didn’t think they were anything special, and I am one of those lost few who don’t think Pan’s Labyrinth is a masterpiece by any means.  After that you have Mimic and The Devil’s Backbone, more movies I didn’t care for much.  But he has built a strong popularity among film critics, and I guess he’s a likeable dude, and so almost everything he is involved in gets some sort of added weight.  Here he gets Troy Nixey to direct his second ever film, but Del Toro’s involvement makes it seem pretty much like his movie.

Based on a TV movie from 1973, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark concerns the four-millionth tale of a family, or a would-be family, buying an old spooky house for some reason and having the audacity of believing they can live in it.  Alex (Guy Pearce) is an architect, his new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) is an interior designer, and Sally (Bailee Madison) is his little girl from a recently-departed marriage.  It’s not long before Sally starts wandering off and finding stuff that shouldn’t be found, much to the chagrin of the house’s caretaker Harris (Jack Thompson), who keeps saying little children shouldn’t be going…anywhere.

Sally ends up finding the house’s basement, which has been buried in a marshy back yard and sealed off from the inside.  It eventually becomes accessible with an axe, and before you know it Sally is making friends with the little devils who live in a bolted furnace and keep whispering about “having fun down here,” and missing the part about how “little girls make great cakes.”  They want your teeth, Sally.  Your teeth!

But the depressed, lonely Sally wants to believe these creatures are fun, so she opens the furnace enough so that these little bastards can start wandering the house.  And here’s where the movie gets really stupid.  Maybe I missed something, but they just need the child’s teeth is what I gathered.  There are more than ample opportunities to acquire said teeth while the girl is sleeping or eating her cereal, but these creatures seem more content in harassment more than anything.  They go up to Sally’s room and play around at first, then they start breaking and tearing things, except for Sally’s mouth.  They disappear when adults come around…actually it would have been a lot more fun if they actually disappeared, rather than all of them somehow finding a way to escape through a small vent in the amount of time it takes an adult to open the door and merely look.  These gremlins/Gollums must have the dexterous spacing of clowns in a clown car.

It’s one of those horror movies where you keep saying, “Why don’t they just do this?” and then being left to wonder.  Establish some rules!  It just makes no sense.  While the movie is well shot and pretty to look at (and if you know me, you know I find this to be a flaw in modern horror filmmaking), it’s not scary and it’s frustrating to watch.

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