Screen Rant's Kofi Outlaw Reviews Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
When seeing a scary movie in a theater, you always run the risk of encountering that obnoxious audience member - the one who loudly criticizes the characters onscreen as if they can hear him, or laughs at every scary moment, or generally complains how stupid the movie is. Typically, encountering such a person makes for a frustrating viewing experience; in the case of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, however, you'll probably find yourself agreeing with him.
It's a shame: Guillermo del Toro has earned a strong reputation as a creative visionary in the genres of fantasy and horror, but even his guiding hand as a co-writer and producer can't protect this film from the mistakes of an untested director, lackluster performances, and a story filled with glaring logical flaws.
The plot involves an old house that has some nasty little creatures running around its bowels. When the former owners of the house met a grisly end, the creatures were locked in their hole in the basement, waiting for another chance to be set loose in search of their favorite delicacy: children's teeth.
Enter little Sally (Bailee Madison), a precocious and despondent child of divorce whose mother has shipped her off to live with her father, Alex (Guy Pearce), and his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes). Alex and Kim are architects/designers who are working to restore the old haunted house to greatness, so that they can sell it off and make a fortune. Sally instantly rebels against daddy and daddy's girlfriend, so when she hears whispers coming from the vents in the house, well, she's just happy to have friends to talk to. And when Sally makes the questionable decision to grab a wrench and unbolt a heavily-bolted hatch in the scary basement, well, she just wants somebody to play with.
Sally releases the evil creatures from imprisonment and quickly finds out that they're not the ideal playmates she thought they were - since they want to eat her teeth and all. Daddy doesn't believe Sally about the monsters (despite some glaring evidence) and wants to up her meds - but Kim slowly comes around to believing the girl (thanks to some glaring evidence) and tries to aid her. But of course, by the time everybody is on the same page it's too late, and the monsters are out for blood.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is like watching a cable TV movie that has delusions of big screen grandeur. That's certainly the way first-time feature director Troy Nixey has constructed the film, which is a perfect storm of mediocre camerawork, mediocre cinematography, mediocre acting, a script full of holes and logical flaws, and an overall audio and visual experience that feels like a mismatched patchwork cobbled together by unsure hands. I could go on at length - how the classic monster movie music contrasts with the crisp, modern digital photography, or how poor the camera work is - but by far it's the script by del Toro and Matthew Robbins that is the most distracting thing about this movie: the number of logical flaws in the film is staggering.
For instance: one scene features a supporting character suffering a brutal attack by the creatures (which Sally witnesses, by the way), and neither Alex or Kim ever pauses long enough to find out who assaulted the guy, or why. It's just off to the hospital for the victim, while our main characters continue going about their business, seemingly unaffected by the ramifications of what has just occurred. This is just one example of unrealistic logic the film throws at us - it also offers the added bonuses of unexplained plot points and an ending which will likely leave you with many unanswered questions.
If there is one thing to be said for the cast, it's that they certainly succeed in portraying the most illogical human beings I've seen in a movie, and this is on top of some generally bad acting. Even the most polite viewer will have trouble warding off judgement for the lengthy duration of Alex's denial - although Guy Pearce does a good enough job playing a pompous father who is more concerned with his work than his daughter's happiness. Madison and Holmes... pretty much have the same range of ability as far as acting goes, which makes the secondary subplot about their relationship grueling to watch (or hilarious, depending on how you look at it). Just try not to groan and/or laugh during the coy pond "bonding" scene.
The monsters (labeled as gnomes or evil fairy things, or something...) are well conceived - smart, agile, ruthless and scary-looking - although they are pathetically bad at their job. We basically watch them try and fail time after time to dispatch a child who has nowhere to run or hide, is often alone and heavily medicated, and who doesn't exactly excel in the brains department. The filmmakers do manage to construct some tense moments and sequences (the bathtub scene), but since these ultimately have little to no pay off, they are little more than wasted opportunities.
The other issue with the creatures is that, since they are ostensibly small CGI animals, the actors (who are not exactly convincing to begin with) don't react in ways that coincide with the movements and actions of the creatures. This often involves characters glancing the wrong way, or appearing deaf to sounds the creatures are making - especially young Bailee Madison, who spends the most time alone onscreen and just isn't equipped to make something convincing out of so much fantasy.
All in all, it's impossible to recommend Don't Be Afraid of the Dark to anyone but those who enjoy laughing at horror films which are totally stupid and cheesy. Anyone who wants an actual scary movie experience, or even just some mindless escapism, won't find either of those things in this house.
Don't Be Aftraid of the Dark is now playing in theaters everywhere. If you're still on the fence about seeing the film, watch the trailer - and be sure to rate the movie for yourself by voting in our poll below: