Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Movie Review: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011) directed by Troy Nixey

MPAA rating

R for violence and terror

ZPAA rating

10 and up--not too scary except for bits here and there. But make sure your child has gone to the dentist before seeing this movie, or they will be too terrified to go!

Gore level

5 out of 10--Missing teeth; bowlful of recently collected human teeth; wounds from sharp instruments like scissors and razors; leg wound with the leg being snapped out of shape; smashed to bits monster with his little innards all on the outside; the creatures are kinda ugly; a lot of near-misses with a creature trying to poke an eye looking through a keyhole with a long metal pin.

Other offensive content

Just a little bad language; strained family relationships; use of prescription drugs to deal with personal issues; clueless and in-denial dad; live-in girlfriend (though no hanky-panky is seen between them); child in lots and lots of peril.

How much zombie mythology/content

No zombies so no zombie mythology/content. The creatures have a lot of mythology built around them that's only partially explained, I suppose to make them scarier.

How much fun

Unfortunately, if you enjoy spotting plot holes and inconsistencies and dumb characters, you will have a grand time with this. The movie has some nice atmosphere and a few scary/shocking moments.

Synopsis & Review

This remake of the 1970s TV movie has been a pet project of Guillermo del Toro for over a decade. He saw the original as a child and it scared him witless. The original story follows a young wife who is tormented by little demon creatures who want to make her one of them. I haven't seen it but have it on good authority that it is quite excellent and worth seeing.

This movie changes the female protagonist to a nine- or ten-year old girl named Sally who has been sent by her mom to live with her dad and his live-in girlfriend. They are fixing up a house on the east coast. There's a lot of family awkwardness that fuels the girl's feelings of loneliness and abandonment. So when she starts hearing voices calling her to come play in the basement, maybe it isn't so strange that she wants to find out who these new friends might be.

Sally doesn't realize how bad an idea it is because she missed the opening of the film, set over 100 years before she arrived. The previous home owner went crazy trying to get his son back from the little demons who live in the ashpit under the house. They wanted children's teeth in exchange for the son. He offers his own and we (mostly) see him collect teeth from his housemaid. That scene was pretty traumatic and horrifying, showing just enough to make it all the more terrifying.

The movie never really maintains the level of dread set at the beginning. Sure, moments are scary and the creatures are nasty looking. But the creatures do not seem so overwhelming, even in large numbers. Their success seems to rely on people being stunned into inaction by their presence, or being tripped and knocked semi- or completely unconscious. And they flee light, which seems like a very easy weapon to have or use more effectively than the characters in the movie make use of.

Some bits are hard to believe, like the skeptical father who still won't believe his daughter is seeing little creatures even after the caretaker has been attacked and, later, the daughter has taken a picture (which he doesn't bother to look at). The demons' voices inviting Sally to join them are throaty and threatening, making me wonder why Sally wasn't more skeptical herself.

Some bits are quite enjoyable. The house is quite beautiful--gothic without being a sinister haunted house like you see in so many other movies. The interiors are warm and original. Only the basement is cold and unnerving. I thought the creatures looked pretty convincing. Many scenes and props reminded me of other movies (especially other del Toro movies like Pan's Labyrinth) but not in a bad, rip-off way. It was more like seeing bits from another movie and saying, "Hey, I know where I've seen that before!" That might be annoying to other viewers (and sometimes stuff like that is annoying to me).

Overall, this movie was a mild disappointment, considering the source material and del Toro's involvement (he's one of my favorite current directors). I had heard a lot of negative reviews before seeing this, so my expectations were pretty low. If I'd seen it in the theater I would have been more disappointed. I can't really recommend it unless you are a die-hard fan of a cast member or one of the creators or the genre.

DVD note: after seeing dozens of films that boast multiple hours of special features, it was nice to see a DVD that had at most 20 minutes of extras. Three featurettes described how the story was put together, how they made the exteriors and interiors of the house, and the development of the creatures from concept to finished film effects.

Movie Trailer

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