DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK Image

This review was originally published on August 05, 2011…

Guillermo del Toro co-wrote and produced this tale of nasty gnome-fairies that feast on teeth and children and more. It begins with a prologue section in the past where an old man chisels out a servant’s teeth to feed to the creatures. This is after he has pulled out his own teeth. Soon the old man is sucked down into a chasm. The teeth are mentioned two other times and do not become a driving plot device.

The story moves to present day. Kim (Katie Holmes) and Alex (Guy Pierce) are restoring a grand old mansion in Rhode Island. Alex’s ten­-year old troubled daughter, Sally (Bailee Madison), comes to live with them. Her mother does not want her around and has even put her on an antidepressant. The idea is that a change might do her good, but she’s not exactly thrilled about having a new stepmother. Sally hears voices speaking to her from air vents. They want her to come down and play. Soon the gnome-fairies are shredding Kim’s clothes and Sally is blamed. The creatures get bolder and Sally screams at night. Her father says it is just nightmares. Parents once again just don’t understand.

One way this could have been more interesting is if they played up the feeding teeth to the creatures aspect more. A groundskeeper is sliced up. Why didn’t they take his teeth? A psychiatrist is brought in to talk to Sally but does not do any good. He could have been a nice victim.  But there are other possible story changes that might have worked. For instance, the creatures could threaten to kill the daughter unless the Dad feeds them more teeth. Then Dad has to go prowling for victims. This, of course, would mean poor Sally gets captured.

But the film goes a different course relying on many well-choreographed jump scares, lots of screaming and nasty creatures. It is actually pretty fun. There is an especially good scare that involves looking under bed sheets. Watch out for poking needles! There is a lot of shouting of first names during the climax, and to no surprise, there are revelations about the house’s secret past. To summarize, the first third is rather routine with the Gothic house feeling similar to a dozen other creepy old houses albeit with some beautiful art direction. Then the jump scares kick in and it’s quite a fun scary movie despite not doing anything pioneering.

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