Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, a remake of the 1973 made-for-tv movie of the same name and produced and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, though never equaling the look of an actual del Toro-directed film, still has an edgy look and feel to its design and art direction and a certain type of moodiness to its cinematography, but in the end it breaks that cardinal sin for a horror film - it just isn't scary. Moody perhaps, and even a bit tense at certain times, but just not scary - not in the least. In fact if the film is anything at all, it is kind of unintentionally funny.
Directed by first-timer Troy Nixey, an obvious del Toro apostle, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is the story of ten year old Sally (played quite well by Bailee Madison) who is sent to live with her dad Alex (Guy Pearce playing American) and his new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) in an old gothic house they are refurbishing. Lo and behold the overly curious Sally, already suffering from depression and of course not taking to the new woman in dad's life, stumbles across a hidden basement that has been sealed away for more than a century. Of course, per the genre requirement, there are tiny little beasties (we later find out they are evil fairies) living deep down in the bowels of this house that like to snack on the teeth of children (yes, the infamous Tooth Fairy stems from the same legends as these guys).
Now the problem with the film is the rather humourous fact that these creatures, instead of being scary (as they damn well should be) are silly and downright comical. Looking like hairless hunchbacked gremlins, or miniature Gollums, these snarly Keystone Koppish acting underground ne'er-do-wells (their pattering feet sound like the effect given to Stewie's running on Family Guy) set their sights on poor hapless Sally - calling to her from the shadows, stealing things around the house to get her in trouble - and of course dear old dad is too oblivious to care. Kim on the other hand does some research at the public library, and from a strangely (and quite conveniently) knowledgeable librarian on the subject of demonic legend and lore (it plays out almost as if a comedy routine how overly-informed on the subject this librarian is), receives just what she needs to save little Sally from getting sucked into the aforementioned deep dark bowels of this house from Hell.
Granted, there are some pretty snazzy set pieces involved (probably more del Toro's influence than anything else) and one does feel for poor Sally when she is being tormented (both by the lack of parental caring and from the funny little creatures), and I can (and do) recommend the ending of the film if nothing else (although Tom Cruise probably isn't a fan), but still the end result is just not scary - and if there is anything a horror movie is supposed to do it is scare you. I personally had no problem falling asleep the night after seeing the film (as I do at certain other horror films). I suppose what I am saying is Don't Be Afraid of the Dark will not make you afraid of the dark. I guess the title is accurate then. [08/29/11]