|Image: StudioCanal UK|
Guillermo del Toro’s used his name to lend a bit of credibility and appeal to a number of films lately. While he only produced recent Spanish horror/thriller Julia’s Eyes, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, a remake of the 1973 TV movie has his fingerprints all over it.
Young Sally (Bailee Madison) is sent to live with her father Alex (Guy Pearce) in the grand old mansion he’s restoring with his new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes). Unhappy at being sent away by her mother, she’s intrigued when she starts hearing whispering voices coming from the walls saying they want to be her friend. However, that’s not really what they want at all...
The first half of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a very effective, creepy chiller that takes the basic ideas of the TV movie and throws in a splendid gothic mansion and an involving troubled family dynamic. There’s a wonderfully nasty pre-credits sequence that establishes this remake as a separate entity, and the look and feel of the film couldn’t be further from the low-budget original. Del Toro’s influence is clearly felt in the production design, with elaborate carvings, sculptures, and murals adorning the house as well as the sketches and illustrations of the creatures. However, it’s surprisingly faithful in terms of the basic storyline and fans of the 1973 version will have a lot to be happy about.
Madison (Just Go With It) gives an impressive performance as Sally, carrying much of the film on her shoulders. Pearce has less to do as the distracted dad but copes well despite having the lion’s share of bad dialogue. As for Katie Holmes, well, she’s not too bad but she is miscast as the caring, maternal Kim.
As we mentioned, the first half has a lot of genuine scares, with first-time director Troy Nixey creating a great atmosphere and finding plenty of ways to make the audience jump out of their seats. It’s a common complaint of films of this nature, but it’s true that once we see the creatures in the walls the film becomes a lot less scary. It’s still a lot of fun, but when Sally starts fighting back, the tone changes and del Toro’s sense of humour comes into play. As Kim tries to figure out what’s going on with Sally, the screenplay’s weaknesses become evident and no amount of creepy drawings can save stilted arguments about Architectural Digest Magazine.
It’s still entertaining and things do pick up for a solid finale. It’s not the film that we may have hoped for given the talent involved, but it’s a highly entertaining, good-looking haunted house movie.
Verdict: While it is let down by its second half and an occasionally dodgy script, there’s still a lot of fun and scares to be had and the production design is wonderful.