All major studios take note: FilmDistrict is on the rise, and it’s well deserved. The company tucked away their guts and put their giant balls on display this past April with Jame Wan’s Insidious, which ended up becoming the most profitable film of the year (as of this writing). On August 26 they hope for a repeat with Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, the Troy Nixey-directed remake that was produced by Mexican horror icon Guillermo del Toro. Any studio could have made a play for this little guy back at the Berlin market earlier this year – and they’ll all soon live to regret missing out. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is gonna be another hit for FilmDistrict.
The remake of the 1973 ABC telepic follows Sally (Bailee Madison), a young girl who moves to Rhode Island to live with her father (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Katie Holmes) in the 19th-century mansion they are restoring. Having stumbled upon the mansion’s hidden basement, Sally starts hearing voices calling out from the bolted ash pit, imploring her to open it. Sally obliges and unwittingly unleashes something so terrible, so unthinkable, that everyone’s life – hers most of all – is placed in immediate and grave danger. – official plot synopsis.
The success of the film begins directly with Matthew Robbins’ screenplay that takes the extremely generic plot of the 1973 version and infuses it with a completely new pulse. The 2011 version opens with an absolutely disgusting sequence between and old man, the basement creatures, and a handful of pulled teeth. It becomes immediately obvious that Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a horrific vision of the “Tooth Fairy,” one that’s subtle enough that the viewer isn’t turned away (like with Darkness Falls). Blending actual mythology into any film is brilliant because what it does is immediately connect the viewer and make everything more believable (see X-Men: First Class and the “Cuban Missile Crisis”). Furthermore, Robbins really nails down the trials and tribulations of each of the characters. While Sally is the clichéd daughter of divorced parents, the stepmother angle is one of the most engaging aspects. While Katie Holmes’ performance isn’t riveting by any means, her character is so well developed that the viewer will give a shit whether or no her, or Sally, make it out of the house alive.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is by no means super bloody (although Del Toro stated that he’ll wear the MPAA’s R-rating like a badge of honor), it’s quite scary. While hardcore horror fans won’t break a sweat, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a gateway horror film, one that will push the younger generation into our sick and twisted world. Much like Insidious, expect this to scare the living daylights out of young teenagers. And even though the seasoned genre fans won’t be phased, it’s hard to ignore some of the authentic jump scares delivered using some out of this world sound design and camera trickery (some of the scares were shot from the point-of-view of the creatures, something most of us aren’t accustom to experiencing).
Unfortunately, there are some blatant pitfalls that appear in most “horde”-themed genre films. Nature vs. man, zombies, and other subgenres of a similar nature are hindered by the sole fact that the creatures aren’t identifiable; there’s no clear-cut leader, and therefore there’s no main “hero” creature (you’re supposed to stand and cheer when the main villain gets his). In addition, there are more than a handful of logic gaps that ask viewers to take a pretty hefty leap of faith. (An example would be in a sequence where Sally is taking a bath. The creatures turn the lights off and go on the attack. Sally stands back against the door right next to the light, yet never attempts to flick it on.) Afraid of the Dark is littered with ignorant character decisions or a blatant lack of explanation by the director.
If you’re willing to take the leap of faith, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is an engaging, well-paced, scary horror film set in an extraordinary environment (the set designs are absolutely beautiful). In fact, the movie is so well shot that you’d have to think Guillermo del Toro had his hands all over the process (much like Steven Spielberg during the filming of Poltergeist). And while our older readers may feel ho-hum about the experience, I implore the younger crowd to rush to theaters and soak in this refreshing entry into our genre – one that many will remember as the film that made them a horror fan.