{2jtab: Movie Review}

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark


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3 Stars

Producer/Writer/Director and genuine gothic genius Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) continues to flirt with the idea of man and monster cohabitation in his latest production.  Reducing the size of the monster to something no bigger than a squirrel and multiplying the number of beasties by the hundreds, the update of 1973’s made-for-television movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark comes across as a rather literal affair.  Directed by Tom Nixey, the scares are there, jumps and bumps are felt along the way, and yet the film – in spite of its rich atmosphere and production values - feels oh so very familiar and routine.

Pervasively effective in being contrary to its title, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark starts with an overly grotesque opening that needlessly lays the groundwork for the whispering critters to be lurking down below an old cellar.  Fast forward a couple of generations, recently remarried Alex Hirst (Guy Pearce) and bride Kim (Katie Holmes) must welcome to their recently renovated mansion his plucky daughter from his previous marriage, Sally (Bailee Madison). She’s older than her years and administers her own medication.  She’s also not afraid of the dark.


The discovery of a boarded-up old cellar leads to the unheeded warnings of an old groundskeeper (Jack Thompson) and, after being tempted by some cooing voices that know her name, Sally discovers some fast friends down in the cellar.  Yet, they don’t just want to play with her.  They want her teeth; her flesh; her bones (someone’s gonna be sacrificed!) and Sally and, soon enough, the rest of the Hirst clan want no part of their particular brand of ghoulish fun, but – now unleashed – can they be stopped?

While Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark manages to strike two prolonged horror chords with its use of monsters and a creepy house, it’s stylishly gothic overtones can’t deafen the director’s mishandling of some investigative sequences involving Holmes and Pearce.   The balance between what’s cool and what’s generic isn’t entirely a smooth transition.  When we are alone with Sally and she is being tormented by the monsters (the bath tub scene and the bedroom scene) the picture comes alive with intensity and fear.  And, after a great (and maybe awkwardly placed) bonding moment between Kim and Sally, the picture derails with a couple of generic “adult” moments as Alex and Kim discuss Sally’s did-she or didn’t-she behavior in the house.  Even more bothersome is the typical adults-don’t-believe-you until-it-is-too-late mentality that marks the latter part of the picture.

Yet, one minor misstep in the development of this horror picture is that the audience gets to see these creatures all too soon.  Their look and behavior is a cross-between that of a gremlin and a scurrying rat; they climb the walls (sometimes inside of said wall), handle sharp objects with great skill, and hate the light.  Only these beasties speak: they whisper and scream at Sally.  Very demanding, you know?  “Come play with us” is how it begins.  “They don’t want you.  They don’t love you.  We do” are just some of the tactics they use to lure Sally toward them.

Then there’s “the teeth”…her teeth…as some sort of strange offering for a silver coin.

It sounds pretty creepy and the audience wants it to be creepier than the sum of its parts but the horror/comic malleability of the creature design lends itself toward a strange and sometimes confusing interpretation.  Expect audience laughter at certain points in the film from the creatures – especially the more vocal ones – and then, as if turning on a dime, those same folks will feel their skin crawl.

Unfortunately, there are also a lot of here-we-go-again scenes involving the parents that are so tiresomely generic and below Del Toro’s standards in both character development and story construction that frustration sets in.  That being noted, the overall atmosphere of Nixey’s film wins in establishing a nifty late-night scare.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark won’t be your favorite horror film of the last couple of years, but for some old-school flavor in 2011 it certainly will be remembered.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Don't Be Afraid of the DarkMPAA Rating: R for violence and terror.
Director: Troy Nixey
: Guillermo del Toro
Bruce Gleeson; Edwina Ritchard; Bailee Madison; Katie Holmes; Guy Pierce
Genre: Horror | Thriller
Memorable Movie Quote:
"Set us free"
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.
Official Site:
Release Date: August 26, 2011
Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available

Plot Synopsis: Introverted Sally Hurst has just moved in with her father Alex and his girlfriend Kim when she realizes that their sprawling estate holds its fair share of secrets. Ascending to the depths of the house, Sally gains access to a secret lower level that has lain undisturbed for nearly a century, when the original builder vanished without a trace. When Sally accidentally opens the gateway that kept the creatures locked up tight, she realizes that in order to prevent them from destroying her family is to convince her skeptical father than monsters really exist.

{2jtab: Blu-ray/DVD Details}

Dont' Be Afraid of the Dark

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
3 stars

3 stars

Blu-ray Experience
3 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - January 3, 2011
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
: English, English SDH, Spanish
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD); UV digital copy; BD-Live
Playback: Region A

Cinematographer Oliver Stapleton’s stunning photography is well-represented on glorious 1080p.  The visual detail is ripe for the picking.  Saturated with warm color and deep shadows, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is full of fine detailed moments and a rich visual palette that doesn’t disappoint.  Colors are a pulpy and only a bit stylized.  Black levels are sharp and provide deep shadows that add to the depth and feel of the horror picture.  Flesh tones are perfect and compliment the colors with a bit of warmth.  The sound, presented here in a full-bodied 5.1 DTS-HD audio surround track, is also a nice compliment to the film and provides enough atmosphere to call this a great immersive experience.



  • None

Special Features:

Still reeling from the surprise of another release without a comment from its director, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark feels a bit too light in the supplemental material department to be of any consequence.  There is a three-part making of featurette that shows just how involved producer and co-writer Guillermo del Toro was in the process of bringing this remake to the big screen.  It’s divided into three parts: “Story”, “Blackwood’s Mansion”, and “The Creatures”.  Don’t be fooled, though.  The total running time is still only a little over 20 minutes.  It’s full of interviews with del Toro, Nixey, and other cast and crew members.  The other bit to the supplemental material is a gallery of 68 images.

  • Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark Documentary (21 min)
  • Conceptual Art Gallery

{2jtab: Trailer}