Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
by Greg Lamberson
In today’s world of brand-name marketing, Hollywood studio execs seem to have never met a remake or franchise they wouldn’t spent millions of dollars on, whether they liked the concept or not. Once upon a time, films were remade every 20 years or so, usually to take advantage of some new technology, like color or 3D; now failed superhero films are remade just a few years later because the ultimate prize is a ready-made fan base. The monster chiller Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark represents an altogether different beast: it’s a remake of a film with no built-in audience, made by people who actually gave a damn about what they were making.
Co-produced and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, but directed by newcomer and comic book artist Troy Nixey, the film is a do-over of a 75-minute 1973 TV movie which starred Kim Darby and Jim Hutton. It’s unlikely that any suit at Miramax said at a board meeting, “Hey, let’s spend a lot of money ‘rebooting’ this obscure 38-year-old TV movie with a tiny cult following!” Instead, the filmmakers of the monster chiller tackled the material with a thoughtfulness and fidelity that suggests they genuinely admired the original and wanted to bring it to a modern audience unfamiliar with the no-frills telefilms of a previous generation.
The story focuses on spider-monkey-size creatures that stalk the temporary residents of an isolated old mansion. As with del Toro’s superior Pan’s Labyrinth, the protagonist is a girl (Bailee Madison) dealing with family issues: Her mother has packed her off to live with her work-obsessed father (Guy Pearce) and his new fiancé (Katie Holmes, here named “Kim” after Darby). The horde of creatures living under the house and within its walls soon make themselves known in several effective and fairly chilling sequences. The film’s emotional core is divided between young Madison, who handles herself well, and Holmes, who emerges with several powerful moments in the last act.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a good old-fashioned creature feature with several good jumps. I wish the monsters had been revealed later in the running time, but they’re so well crafted I can’t complain. The filmmakers avoided sex and nudity in an effort to obtain a family friendly PG-13 rating, but the MPAA insisted on an R anyway for “violence and terror”—which shows that del Toro and his collaborators had their hearts in the right place. I was especially pleased by the ending, which isn’t pleasant at all.
Watch the trailer for Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
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