The name Guillermo del Toro written in large type on the poster for "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" was enough to get me into the movie theater, but not quite enough to keep me entertained. Del Toro has ushered in a crossover for Spanish horror films, beginning with fantastical fascist fairy tale "Pan's Labyrinth" and followed by the terrifying haunted house movie "The Orphanage." In "Afraid," maybe in an attempt to appeal to a larger audience (the nonsubtitle reading public), he's gotten rid of the Castillian cast, and replaced them with Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce.
I love a good haunted house movie. It brings back childhood memories of spending the night in my grandparents' country house, half-excited and half-terrified by the sounds and shadows that a country home produces at night, a 5-year-old who absolutely refused to acknowledge that there was a basement let alone set foot on the top step.
As a child, Del Toro watched the original "Don't be Afraid of the Dark" and was so scared and inspired that he decided to dedicate his life to making scary movies. I've never seen the original film, but am curious to see that source of inspiration.
"Afraid" is about a girl named Sally (Bailee Madison) who is sent to live with her father (Pearce) and his girlfriend (Holmes). The couple is flipping an old mansion called Blackwood Manor, named after the previous owners who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The film opens with the crotchety old Emerson Blackwood and his son, whose lives ended horrifically. The real estate broker should have been a little more upfront about the house's history.
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Sally awakens something in some ominous creatures in the basement. Director Troy Nixey is smart not to show us the creatures right away. Instead, Sally's fear of them is developed through menacing shadows and whispers. Dad Alex and girlfriend Kim write off Sally's fears to an imagination gone wild. Bailee is talented; she throws the cutesy angle out the window and helps build a great amount of tension.
The film moves along the right track, and then, Nixey reveals the monster -- an urchinlike being that feasts on children's teeth. The demented tooth fairy twist takes this movie to a very un-frightening direction; I'd rather the film kept its monsters cloaked.