FrightFest 2011: ‘Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark’

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Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark

Directed by Troy Nixey

Produced by Guillermo Del Toro

Australia, 2011 

FRIGHTFEST kicked off this year with alumni Guillermo Del Toro scribed and produced ‘remake’ – Don’t be Afraid of the Dark. Centring around a young girl called Sally who, shunned by her mothers lifestyle, moves in with her architect father (Guy Pierce) and his new girlfriend (Katie Holmes) in their recently restored 19th century mansion. But soon upon her arrival, the house begins to reveal it’s dark secrets in a neat twist on the tooth fairy myth.

Don’t be Afraid of the Dark is, in Guillermo’s own words, a tribute to the style of movies he would watch with his friends at a young age. Initially intended for a low certificate rating, it ended up being shackled with an R rating for ‘violence and terror’ and to be honest, it’s easy to see why. There are a few key moments in this film that have imagery and shocks that would be too much for a young audience, but this means that it now falls awkwardly between genres and is possibly going to have a hard time finding it’s following as this is clearly a kids film in adults clothing.

Which sounds like a wonderful thing, but this is a road that Guillermo has walked down many times already with his superior The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, and in particular, the Juan Antonio Bayona helmed The Orphanage. All of these films bear the now trademark Guillermo auteur staples of an adult world seen through childlike eyes, fairytales entwining with the real world, large, ominous, old fashioned mansions, ancient secrets, and a twisted, fantastical verve. But where-as the others either boasted innovative environments, thrilling scares, imaginatively designed creatures, or maturely handled slow-burn set-pieces, Don’t be Afraid of the Dark is merely a competently made and mildly effective addition that neither refines nor broadens what we have come to expect from this talented filmmaker. 

That’s not to say that this isn’t worth watching or that it doesn’t boast some fun ideas and moments – as it does and I was entertained throughout. But these ideas never feel flexed to their full capacity and instead just linger in their initial spark, leaving plot holes, inconsistencies and a sense of mild disappointment.

It’s a fairly handsome film and the acting is competent with some solid sound design and a couple of great FX moments. As a kid this could well be the kind of movie that Guillermo and co started out to make – creating an effective little horror that would make a great midnight oddity to jump at with some friends. But as an adult it’s hard to recommend this above any of his previous works and due to a few key scenes – makes it difficult to actually suggest as suitable viewing for young children.

– Al White

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