Just this evening at the San Diego Comic-Con I caught up with Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (review) helmer Troy Nixey, who made his feature-length directing debut with the film, a remake of the 1973 made-for-TV movie of the same name about a family that discovers murderous tiny creatures living in the basement of their new home. I asked the very friendly director what he took from the original film in executing the updated version arriving in theaters August 26 from FilmDistrict. Full story inside.
“I think that there’s nods here and there,” said Nixey. “We definitely kept a nod to the [original] creatures in ours. I think probably maybe a little more in our original design than what some of them turned out to be. But I think that there’s sort of a…similar shape to their heads and that kind of thing. And there’s some hair there and stuff…a lot of the fans of the original [are] like, ‘oh yeah, I’m glad you kept some patchy hair on some of them and stuff.’”
“I had this idea of each one sort of having its own personality,” he continued. “One of them’s burned, one of them’s had his jaw broken…[I wanted] to instill a personality into each one of them, so that when it came time to plan the attacks I could say ‘ok, now we know how each one sort of is, how are they going to react in this situation?’ And then that really sort of helped dictate how we wanted them to move through a scene…we built a hierarchy for them and everything.”
He also spoke a bit about the violence in the film – particularly a scene near the very beginning that involves both a chisel and someone’s teeth – which is more suggestive than outright gory but nevertheless got the film slapped with an R-rating.
“One of my favorite sections of the movie is that scene, because everybody talks about how gory it is, and it really isn’t,” said Nixey. “I mean, there’s the aftermath where he has some bloody teeth, but you don’t ever see any teeth really being cracked, you see the chisel in the teeth. It’s all off-camera. The sound is everything – I think that a lot of people forget just how important it is. To me, sound and music is half a movie, easy. And so if you get that right sound design, you can just bring so much more to a scene…[the violence] is all implied…but what an audience brings to it is fantastic. That ‘oh my god!’ is exactly what you’re looking for, and it makes that scene work so well.”
As for whether he was surprised by the R-rating: “No, and it’s funny because I was sort of…when Guillermo was talking about that today on the panel it’s like, ‘yeah, I guess my skew of how ratings are gonna work are completely off,” he said. “Because I was shooting that with [the thought]…’ok, it’s intended to be a PG-13 movie.’ But that didn’t stop me as to how I wanted to shoot it. I thought ‘okay, well it’s not a big gory movie, so we’ll be fine!’ So I just kept at it the way I was [doing it]…and then when [the R-rating] came back…and you watch it and you go…’yeah, ok, I can see why it is [R-rated]‘…When you get a little distance from it too, after it’s been done for a little while, and you see it again and [you're] like, ‘yeah ok, it makes sense.’”
Actor Guy Pearce, who stars alongside Katie Holmes in the film as an architect initially too wrapped up in remodeling the stately home into which his family has just moved to notice what’s really going on, was also on hand at the Comic Con press line for the film, and he praised Nixey for his ability to effectively communicate his vision.
“It doesn’t matter if you’ve made a hundred movies or none, if you’re able to communicate the idea that you’re trying to express, then great,” said Pearce. “But I had seen his short film, which was really fascinating. So I knew he had the ability to shoot, and he has real enthusiasm for story, and the details of story, and how people interact, etc. So I just felt really inspired by him. And then obviously with Guillermo as our producer and a very creative producer at that, you know, I just felt like I was in great hands.”
So how hands-on was Del Toro during the shoot?
“He was there quite a [bit],” responded Pearce. “He was back and forth to New Zealand because he was getting ‘The Hobbit’ ready, so he was going over there, and then coming back for a few more days, and then going for a few days, and coming back for a few days, and then going for a few days, and then coming back for a few days. So you know, he was back and forth.”
I also took a moment to ask Nixey what’s next for him, and while he couldn’t give any specific details, he mentioned we can expect more genre films in his future.
“There’s definitely different stuff I wanna do,,” he said. “I love…dark fantasy…more than a horror movie, I think definitely in line with ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. I think everything I do will have a fantastical spin [to] it. Like Guillermo, I love monsters. I mean, I have a script that I wrote that is sort of more family-friendly, it’s like a PG movie. But then there’s other stuff that I have that are like straight-ahead monster movie ideas…that I think are pretty unique and pretty original, or at least a new spin on things that I’m really excited about.”
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark will be released on August 26th.