Reviewbr> "That's why most of the houses around here don't have basements" - Kim
Nine year old Sally is sent to live with her estranged father Alex and his interior designer girlfriend Kim. Alex is currently renovating a decaying manse and hopes to make the cover of Architecture Digest, or America's Most Haunted, or something. Naturally since the house is large, gothic, and gloomy it had an unsavoury past. Back in 1910 a famous naturalist painter and his son went missing while in the house.
It isn't long before Sally starts to hear voices in the wall cavity and tries to discover who is making the noise. Since she is alienated from both Alex and Kim one feels she is ample meat for the local Jody variant to prey on. Things get real tense when we learn the creatures living below the house now have an access all areas pass, thanks to Sally, and a taste for children's teeth. Apparently one person must die is the mantra. So how did things look with a lick of paint?
Don't be Afraid of the Dark is a movie length remake of the 1973 tele-movie that appears to have some sort of cult following. Sorry have never seen the original, ergo no idea how the remake stakes up. Guillermo del Toro apparently spent fifteen years working on the remake, and one wonders why? To be frank the 2011 model is a complete mess with more plot holes than the Waratah defensive line, however surprisingly I will have some nice things to say about the movie.
The opening sequence is pretty solid, if something of a horror trope. It's late night in 1910 and a Maid is going about dusting. A bell rings summoning her to the cellar. After some well-constructed tension filled moments, the Maid ends up being victim number one as some lunatic bashes her teeth out with a hammer and chisel, this isn't as violent and bloody as one might expect. Anyways apparently our amateur dentist wants his son back from an "ash pit", but clearly the creatures that inhabit the netherworld under the house have a hankering for younger dentures than those on offer and show their disapproval. Cool stuff, and I did dig the transition to the modern world from the opening salvo.
The movie reeks of that false Hollywood horror look, rather than the realistic Aussie one.Guillermo del Toro is all over the look and feel of this movie with the house itself, the principal location, presented as entirely gothic and looking like something from a nightmare that Tim Burton might have had after attending a cheese festival. I've not seen this sort of over the top haunted house presentation since the remake of The Haunting made us aware that Hollywood set designers don't live in the real world. The house has a dream like quality, excellent decision to show it under heavy renovations as we have this decay things going down, and the lighting effects in the house add to the nightmarish quality of things. We have a sort of warm feeling in the house while outside it seems to be perpetually winter. del Toro has the atmosphere rocking as the sets and locations keep things claustrophobic.
There were a few tense scenes, though unfortunately that idea didn't extend to the final confrontation. Pretty hard to raise tension when showing CGI rat sized "fairies" going Lilliput on one of the human characters. The bathroom scene, tastefully done considering the young age of Bailee Maidson (Sally) ranks up there as dozens of thugly looking fairies advance on the girl brandishing all manner of cutting or stabbing weapons. Director Troy Nixey has it all working in the first block of the movie, but then it simply goes disastrously wrong as the Director loses the handle on any attempt to make a "scary" movie rather than a mildly amusing parody.
To the plot holes, and there are more here than Uwe Boll could ever hope to include in one of his epics. Firstly the Caretaker Mr Harris, who naturally knows more than is good for him, is attacked by the creatures and receives a fair amount of stab wounds and cuts for his troubles. Rushed to the Hospital, it's not looking good for a speedy recovery. Either the local Cops or the Hospital staff are clearly incompetent, as even though Harris has clearly been assaulted no one bothers to follow up on the incident. Similar when a major character does a deep six down the ash pit no one apparently feels the need to inform authorities and strangely no one notes the disappearance. That's just the tip of the plot hole iceberg coming at you, the plot holes make the movie go down quicker than the Titanic. For those that love them some absurd happenings, the library scene should have you going into next week at least. Don't even get me started on no one believing Sally, how much evidence do these people need? - talk about your dumb white folk not getting out of the paranormal centre of excellence regardless of what is under their own noses, there's a house Alex could be renovating in Amityville if he's after another gig,
Perhaps the biggest problem for the movie however is that Director Nixey pulls his aces and slams them on the table way too soon. Once we get a good look at the CGI fairies, they lose any scare cache they earnt while keeping to the shadows. From then on it simply gets ridiculous right through to the final moments. A good example of people noting, as they used to say, the zipper at the back of the monster suit, here it's pretty bad CGI.
Surprisingly Katie Holmes (Kim) isn't as bad as I had expected, she is sort of believable, more so than playing Mrs Cruise anyway. Guy Pearce (Alex) was phoning it in, he knew he was in a bad horror flick and couldn't do much with his aloof "worse father of the year" role. And Bailee Maidson did ample work with her character Sally, she needed a facial expression coach for mine. Jack Thompson (Harris) was the pick for mine, though I was sniggering over that Yankee accent.
Original music is handled by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders, who go more dramatic than a drag queen with runs in her pantyhose. Somehow it fits the atmosphere going down, not sure how, but don't listen to it without the visuals, you may invade Poland or something.
So I had to get my hands on a copy of this movie when it got released, but ended up disappointed over all as the movie lumbered from one mistake to the next. Director Troy Nixey shows glimpses of talent and Guillermo del Toro has the atmosphere about right. And that's all she wrote, no recommendation on this haphazard example of how not to make a horror flick.