Saturday, September 10, 2011

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark ... unless

There are three ways one could look at "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," the Guillermo del Toro-produced film starring Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce.

You could take it completely on its own, pretending no other film exist that are like it. You'd have to be lying to yourself or maybe you've never been to a horror movie before. If that's the case, "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is a fun and creepy film worth the matinee admission price.

But, again, you'd have to lie to yourself to get there.

The other two ways to consider the film are very similar. You can compare it to movies of the same ilk that are better than it, or you can compare it films that are worse.

In other words, "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is about as average as a horror movie can get.

The good: Bailee Madison as Sally breaks from the dark-haired, disturbed child mold and produced some real emotion. Any child of divorce will see the fear and anger she has and know what she's going through. Her emotions and reactions don't feel forced, which is incredible given that many of her scenes are face to face with GCI creatures that want to eat her teeth.

The creature design is fun, too. It's not immediately obvious, but all the evil little gnomes used to be people. High marks, also, to the short, but visually satisfying opening credit sequence.

The bad: From the caretaker who knows more than he lets on, the crawling bump under the blankets, and the quick nod to the tooth fairy myth and more, "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is a lot like reading a text book on the genre. Text books, in general, don't push you to strive for your creative best. Text books want you to memorize key points from the past and apply them in future use.

Lesson one ... creepy old house in New England. Check.
Lesson two ... new couple (somewhat younger woman with somewhat older divorced man) takes in man's mentally unbalanced child to live in creepy old house. Check.
Lesson three ... child pokes around, makes discovery, discovery turns out to be evil. Check.
Lesson four ... twist ending everyone saw coming a mile away. Check.

"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" would score well on a standardized test, but not so well on the essay portion.

One last question about this movie. Why is it rated R? Because one guy gets cut up pretty bad? Sure, it's intense, but it's no more intense than "The Grudge" or "Drag Me to Hell." Maybe it's because there is a little girl involved. That has to be it, because there's no sex and if anyone dropped an F-bomb, I missed it. Trust me, if Katie Holmes said "fuck," I'd remember.

Bottom line, "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" might be perfect for your teen daughter's first slumber party, especially if the girls attending haven't seen very many scary movies.

Threat level: YELLOW. An average rating for an average movie. (For more information about our ratings, visit the Warning Systems page.)

"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is rated R (but don't ask me why) and stars Bailee Madison, Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes. Guillermo del Toro produced, with Troy Nixey directing the script by del Toro and Matthews Robbins, based on the teleplay by Nigel McKeand.

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