September 29, 2011

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

"Do be afraid to spend your money on this movie..."
There are so many things wrong with this movie that it amazes us that Guillermo Del Toro's name is anywhere near it. Not only did he produce it, but he wrote the screenplay? Baffling, because Del Toro is a craftsman with narrative, and the script here is full of plot devices and plot holes galore. It's just a weak, weak movie.

*A Quick note on Guillermo Del Toro: For those of you not familiar with who he is, you need to be. Above all else, the guy seems like one of the sweetest, most genuinely kind people on the planet. He's also a massive film geek, which coupled with his kind sensibilities has allowed him to make some breathtaking, creepy, and emotionally powerful movies.

He really is one of the best directors working today, along with names like Fincher, Wook Park, Tarantino, Nolan, Jackson, Boyle, among others, instantly demands an audiences respect and at least their curiosity.

Seek out Pan's Labyrinth, and experience his talent the way it should be. Don't let this movie represent his level of talent or storytelling ability.

If you haven't seen the original 1970's Made for TV movie from which this film version comes, it's basically the story of a family that moves into a gorgeous old mansion with a troubled past. It has a secret basement you see, one that has been sealed of for many years, and for good reason; there's pretty much a tunnel to Hell in the furnace, which is home to hundreds of evil, hungry, little imp-things.

The family is made up of Dad, who is clueless about pretty much everything, including how to be a Dad; Daughter, who is bratty and annoying; and Step-Mom, who is the least annoying of them all. Strange things begin to happen, and it eventually becomes apparent that there's something "wrong" with the house...

Beautifully shot and fairly atmospheric, it's sad to see that this movie dropped the ball in so many ways. First and foremost are the plot holes. When the creepy old handy man wanders into the basement, he's attacked by dozens of the little monsters who stab him repeatedly with various tools and sharp implements, leave scissors stuck in his neck and a screwdriver jutting out of his head, and it's explained as an "accident?" No one panics, no one asks what type of accident leaves a strong, huge man full of more holes than a pincushion, and above all else, no one leaves. The scene where the little girl is taking a bath felt odd too. She draws the shower curtain around her tub, which felt like it only served to make a tense scene of "things" poking at the shower curtain. I know she's a kid, and kids do odd things all the time, but who pulls the curtain closed during a bath?

Forced scene is forced.
Even when the daughter is attacked in the library during a dinner party, which leaves a dead monster corpse and arm (I think I remember an arm) laying on the floor, no one does anything sensible. "Something odd is going on here..." No shit, jerk-nut. How about you leave the house? But of course, they don't. The ending is as lame as what preceded it as well; I won't spoil it for you here, but I will say "Come on, Guillermo! Just come on, man!" It all just felt forced and convenient, and not much of it rang true.

The opening scene was interesting. Visually, the movie is gorgeous. The whispers of the creatures work pretty well when you can decipher them. Aside from those few positives though, the rest is tedious, cheesy, and not creepy at all.

Don't look so surprised, Katie.
I'm sure that I'm going to take some flack for this next part, but screw it. The worst part of the whole thing, which for me made it all the more unbearable, was Bailee Madison. I know she's a kid, and I'm not in the habit of insulting little children (even when they have it coming), but for Christ's sake is she ever unbearable to watch. To behold her on screen is about as pleasant as chewing tin foil, or maybe or dragging metal wire across a chalk board... She comes off as pretentious and fake to us, and it's impossible for us to find her compelling in the least. With or without her, the movie is still a clinker, though we honestly believe that with another kid in the movie -one who could act convincingly, and is actually cute- it may have softened the blow a bit.

It's true hun, they like Tom Cruise better than you LOL!
As for the rest of the cast... Guy Pearce, who is usually amazing, pretty much phoned it in here. Oddly enough, the best actor in this mess was Katie Holmes. She's mostly famous for marrying the High Priest of the Church of Xenu, but she's actually good here, and manages to make her character worth half a damn, which is more than we can say for the other two leads.

"Why did I marry the Son of Xenu?!?"
We will never fully understand how this movie, in the hands of one of the best filmmakers of our time, went so bad, and in so many ways. Were it not for the quality of the visuals, we'd DO NOT WANT this one in a hot second. As it stands though, it's a pretty movie, with hollow, contrived insides, that manages to frustrate instead of scare. Seek out the original 1970's version, which for being a TV movie, was pretty damned creepy. We adore you, Guillermo, but this one we just can't love at all.


Katie Holmes is still pretty cute, though we miss the old school version of her; you know, before the whole uncomfortably creepy marriage thing. *FYI, we still like Tom Cruise, even with his crazy and all.


  1. Damn......I had high hopes for this one. I was looking forward to a good horror movie that was made with a nice budget. So much for that I guess.

  2. The child -- Bailee whatever -- was on an SVU episode. If this kid can't act decently enough for Law & Order, why are they putting her in movies? (Seriously, her "tormented and miserable" face looked bored; I only knew the kid was supposed to be sad because Benson was sad.)

    Del Toro is brilliant. I don't think I've seen y'all review "The Orphanage", but I enjoyed it (more atmospheric with creepy moments, a very few "shocks"). I need to see more of his work on principle.

  3. Couldn't agree with you more Sheena. On principle indeed. Also, funny you should mention The Orphanage...

    And so were we, Matthew. Those types of movies are out there, but unfortunately not may of them come out of Hollywood anymore.

  4. I close the Curtian when I take a bath.