Movie News & Reviews

Don't fret to skip 'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark'

Before we consider cutting library funding in this time of fiscal crisis, we should step back, as a nation, and remember that without them, we'll be helpless in the face of any timeless horrors that roll into town.

Think about the last time you got attacked by that Cthulhu. What did you do to defeat it? No, not the bazooka filled with poison candy corn. Before that. That's right, you went to the local library. Specifically, the amazingly complete occult section filled with 14th century Italian manuscripts about head vampires and Moby-Dicks (he was a monster, right?). That's where you learned about the bazooka in the first place. Without the public library, right now you'd be gurgling away in the interdimensional stomach acid of a thing that wears its stomach in its third armpit.

That's what I gather from horror movies, anyway, which as far as I know are a series of documentaries filmed in real-time, Highlander-style. And if you need yet more proof of the crucial role our public library system serves in the national defense, look no further than Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.

Troubled and moody, young Bailee Madison is sent to live with her father Guy Pearce in hope the change of scenery will break her depression. There, he's working with new girlfriend, Katie Holmes, to restore a sprawling, dilapidated mansion.

But they aren't the only residents. In the basement, tiny, goblin-like creatures await their next victim. Promising friendship, they lure Madison down the stairs, where she releases them -- and soon finds herself under siege.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark was produced and co-written by Guillermo Del Toro, which means two things: first, it's likely to be pretty good, and second, the chance it features some kind of ancient fairy-monsters is roughly equivalent to the chance that a) his beard will be splendid and b) if you listen to one of his commentary tracks you will be so charmed that, if he asked, you would willingly sacrifice yourself to the Slumbering Hill-Wights of Gwynfyddie. (Seriously, if you're a fan of his and haven't yet, watch one of his commentaries. He's one of the best.)

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark isn't. One of the best, that is. That transition could have used a little more work. Well, too late now. Much like it is for this movie! All right, I totally salvaged this one.

The main problem? The story is kind of the same thing, over and over: Madison gets attacked by the little gremlins, then a convenient adult shows up and scares them away. This repeats for 99 minutes. It's kind of like watching Groundhog Day, only Bill Murray is played by an 11-year-old girl and Andie MacDowell is played by a horde of mangy, tooth-eating monsters. And it's not half as awesome as that sounds. Madison is just a passive victim. It's not all that fun to watch someone be helpless in the face of trauma. Unless they made fun of you in high school.

Meanwhile, I'm not really sure why the goblins hold back on their powers and tricks for so long. I mean, except for that whole "rising action of the dramatic arc" thing. But there's no clear internal logic as to why this army of supernatural beings doesn't just drag her down to the basement right away. Or murder everybody in their sleep. If I'm capable of it -- and I have a house with a crawlspace for a reason -- I'd think the legion of ancient monsters would be, too.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark isn't completely worthless. First-time director Troy Nixey musters up a few scares, and its first half is reasonably effective before it starts repeating itself more than a senile grandparent. Madison turns in a pretty good performance, but Pearce and Holmes are vaguely and strangely mannered. When Del Toro is recycling a gag from one of his Hellboy movies into a feature-length remake, I guess it's too much to hope that it's as inventive as his normal work.

Grade: C

* Contact Ed Robertson at edwrobertson@gmail.com. His fiction is available on Kindle, Nook, and through Smashwords.

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