There are few childhood fears more common than being afraid of the dark, but Bailee Madison’s character, Sally, in Guillermo del Toro and Troy Nixey’s reimagining of the ’70s horror flick “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” certainly has good reason to be scared. And she’ll likely never want to leave anything for the tooth fairy again.
Del Toro loved the 1973 TV movie of the same name that terrified him as a small child, and set about remaking it. Hoping to scare the pants off a new generation, the “Pan’s Labyrinth” director co-wrote the screenplay and produced the film and handed it off to director Nixey.
So will “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” have you leaving the lights on all night, or let you sleep like a baby this weekend? Here’s what the critics had to say:
” ’Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,’ which puts Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes and young Bailee Madison in some serious stomach-churning, can’t-bear-to-watch-it jeopardy, is really, truly, very scary. … At least until about 30 minutes in, when you start to be distracted by the lack of logic in the storytelling and the fact that the nasty little gremlins responsible for all the bumps in the night can be offed pretty easily. Possibly a good sturdy broom would have been enough to clean them out along with the cobwebs in the corners of the Gothic manse where the film is set.” — Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times
“There isn’t much for Guy Pearce to do as the tone-deaf, perennially irritated dad, but Holmes — whose acting is often overwhelmed by her Mrs. Tom Cruise fame — delivers a sensitive performance as Kim gradually builds a tender, hesitant rapport with Sally. Still, there are problems with the characters and story here that the cast can’t fix. It feels as if del Toro and Robbins never clearly chose between leaving the film in the cruel, manipulative horror idiom of the ’70s — in which telephones never work, cars never start, and minor coincidences and catastrophes keep the family inside the house long past the point when any ordinary idiot would have fled — or uprooting it.” — Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
“Nixey provides us with a very gradual introduction to the inhabitants of the flue, which opens over a dark, deep space. Into this space we earlier saw Emerson Blackwood fall. Or was he pulled? Exploring the area, Sally innocently checks out the grating, and we hear ominous whispers and rustlings, and glimpse the body parts of … something. These creatures are eventually seen more clearly, which I must say is a disappointment. The mastery of CGI allow filmmakers to show just about anything they can imagine, when sometimes it’s scarier to show nothing at all. Consider the timeless ’Cat People’ (1942). We never saw a thing. But when the heroine goes alone for a late-night plunge in a swimming pool, she hears something growl, and pace, and nothing we could [possibly] see could improve on that scene.” — Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times
The Comparison To The Original
“Reimagining the 1973 television movie that terrified him as a boy, the producer, Guillermo del Toro — who wrote the screenplay with Matthew Robbins and who has made a career transforming childhood trauma into art house shivers — may have entrusted directing duties to Troy Nixey, but his fingerprints are all over the screen. The child’s-eye view (the original Sally was an adult), the mash-up of history and fairy tale, the overly fussy story — all bear his stamp, as do the richly detailed visuals and prolix tension. None of Mr. del Toro’s classy fiddling, however, can improve on the original’s marvelously economical scares.” — Jeanette Catsoulis, The New York Times
The Final Word
“Pearce and Holmes, often fine performers, here stoop to the kind of ’Amityville Horror’ acting in which every line gets highlighted and overstated. (And why is Pearce wearing a scruffy dark brush cut that looks like a wig?) Of course, it’s the kind of cheesy acting you can forgive when a horror film delivers, but ’Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ grows less suspenseful as it goes on. The spirits, heralded by echoey whispers (’Sall-eee! Now you’ll see what it’s like down here!’), are a small, scurrying army of 10-inch-tall, humpbacked simian beasties who look like they came out of a CGI demo reel. There’s no mystery to them, which may be why there’s no fear.” — Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
Check out everything we’ve got on “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.”
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