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Review: ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’

Del Toro Lite

Sally (Bailee Madison) explores a creepy old house in

Credit: Film District

Above: Sally (Bailee Madison) explores a creepy old house in "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark."

Guillermo Del Toro is not only a great filmmaker but a great supporter of new talent. His latest venture as a producer is the remake "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" (opened August 25 throughout San Diego), the first feature of Troy Nixey.

Troy Nixey has one short film under his belt but apparently that was enough to win Del Toro's trust and get a feature film deal. Nixey helms the remake of the 1973 movie "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" with Kim Darby. In the remake, Katie Holmes plays Kim, the girlfriend of a designer/architect Alex (Guy Pearce) whose little daughter Sally (Bailee Madison) has just reluctantly moved in with them. Sally doesn't take well to Kim and tries to distract herself by exploring the old house that her dad and Kim are renovating. The old groundskeeper (isn't there always one at these old places?) warns her of dangers lurking in the house but that's like catnip to a child so she uncovers a creepy basement and ends up letting loose some creatures in the house.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Film District

Katie Holmes plays a woman who sympathizes with a young girl's fears of an old house in "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark."

That's all I'm saying and I have to say I was pissed at the trailer for revealing far more than I wanted to know about the film. If I was a horror filmmaker today I'd forbid the studio from making a trailer because nowadays horror trailers are designed to give away the best scares. Horror films are best when you know nothing about the story or the film; when you are sitting in the dark in nervous anticipation of what's coming next.

Nixey understands this and for half the film he builds tension and teases us along with impressive skill. As with "The Orphanage," another Del Toro produced first feature, "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" returns horror to a more elegant and atmospheric style and approach. Both films respect the slow build and the steady camera. It's refreshing to be led along with tantalizing craft and anticipation. And for almost half the film, Nixey delivers this. The photography is lovely, the creatures are exquisitely odd, and the little girl provides a perfect guide through the creepy old house.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Film District

Bailee Madison stars as Sally in "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark."

But then there's a point where the people start to behave so stupidly that it pulls us out of the story. Del Toro is credited with co-writing the adaptation with Matthew Robbins, and the script falters badly in the second half. Once a threat has been identified and a solution suggested, the characters need to act on that information or else they come across as complete morons that we no longer root for but rather looks at with disdain. If the second half of the film were condensed and the characters allowed to behave in a smarter fashion, the film could have been a complete success. As it stands, it is a promising debut filled with wonderful moments.

Kudos to whoever designed the little creatures and the artwork representing them. In the film, the house belonged to a man who, before disappearing, drew sketches and painted a vast mural of his final dark visions. This artwork is stunning. In a these artist rendering we are given a window into some truly disturbing night terrors that might be all too real.

"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" (rated R for violence and terror) doesn't fully exploit its R rating and leaves you a bit frustrated. But there is enough promise and lush style on display to make me seek out Nixey's next film.

Companion viewing: "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" (1973), "The Orphanage," "Pan's Labyrinth"

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