Guillermo Del Toro has a great imagination. It’s both mysterious and lovely in a sadistic way, that you can’t help but love. It is a shame that this talent is wasted on “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” a film that fails to frighten and is an utter bore.
Written by Del Toro and Matthew Robbins, “Don’t be Afraid of the Dark” is about a girl named Sally (Bailee Madison) who comes to live with her architect dad Alex (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) in an old mansion. Despite her dad’s advice, Sally, who has some mental problems [her mom gives her Aderal], hates life with her dad. She then discovers a voice that tells her it wants to be friends with her. This voice turns out to be tiny evil monsters who want her dead.
A horror movie needs to be just that: scary. Del Toro decides to rely heavily on jump scares for this effect and it gets old quick. The little monsters are not scary.
Not in the least.
They come across as killer Smurfs that can be killed with a well-placed insect bomb than evil creatures that need to be feared.
Papa Smurf’s beard is scarier than these things.
What makes these creatures even less scary is that they can’t stand light. You’d think the characters would buy a bunch of bright lights like they use in photography studios and point them at the house’s grates to keep them at bay. Instead, they use flashlights and a camera to fight them. This is supposed to make the characters desperate, but it instead makes them come off as stupid.
Speaking of stupid, there’s one scene where Sally and Kim are battling these creatures and Sally is obviously pointing a flashlight at Kim but this does not seem to have any effect on them. The flashlight constantly breaking down screams poor writing rather than dramatic scene as well.
Speaking of poor writing, Del Toro has the talent to write a better screenplay than this,centered around a bunch of crazed Smurfs wanting to eat a sad little girl and her family. The fact that her parents don’t believe these monsters exist and all the grownups dismiss these critters as a psychological disorder only makes the drama that much hokey.
The acting is probably the only high point of the film. Madison is a great actress who plays the troubled little girl role very well. For someone so young, she has great talent. She can show fear, sadness and her crying is even excellent. All she needs is to be cast in a better movie and her career will soar. Pierce, though not as good as Madison, does a decent job in his role, but after a while he does become forgotten due to being upstaged by a little girl. Holmes is, well, let’s not even talk about her. She has no presence in the film whatsoever and her acting is a wooden as the mansion the film takes place in.
Del Toro does have a great imagination as evidenced from “Hellboy” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.” It’s a shame his new outing is not up to par with those movies and will ultimately be forgotten in the bargain bin. Del Toro should either stick with solo projects or find better co-writers to work with. Making a film version of “The Strain” sounds like a good place to start.