This Old House
A scary mansion, a terrified young girl, and creepy creatures -- how can we NOT be afraid while watching Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark? This atmospheric horror/thriller starring Bailey Madison, Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes may not be the best scarefest ever filmed, but it left me with strong feelings about how important it is for adults to listen when children express fears that seem unreasonable at times. The film’s fine performances plus its wonderful gothic look and frightening tiny creatures add to the quality of this big-screen adaptation of Nigel McKeand’s 1973 teleplay.
Directed by Troy Nixey (Latchkey’s Lament) and co-written by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Matthew Robbins (Mimic), Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark capitalizes on the “little child in danger” theme -- one that always grabs my attention and draws me into the story right away. Madison (Bridge to Terabithia) projects a deep-seated unhappiness in the role of Sally, a seven-year-old sent to live with her architect father Alex (Pearce) and his girlfriend Kim (Holmes), who hope to change the old house into a modern abode worthy of a cover for Architectural Digest.
Sally is such a sad and withdrawn youngster! “My mother gave me to my father,” she tells Kim, who’s trying hard to be her friend. But Sally, who can’t help being intimidated by the huge house, wants to go home. “My bed’s too big,” she complains to her mother on the phone. Soon things get much worse for Sally. She begins hearing strange whispering noises. Does someone want to play with her? If not, what is really happening? Unfortunately, Alex and Kim don’t believe Sally at first. They think she’s simply having problems adjusting to her new environment. But, believe me, they should have listened! Saying anything more about the plot might ruin the movie for readers who haven’t seen Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark yet, so just take my word for it.
Madison’s performance stands out here, but don’t expect the cutie she played in Terabithia. As Sally, she barely smiles -- she looks morose or terrified most of the time instead. And that’s exactly what’s needed for a role like this. Holmes (Batman Begins) manages to make Kim a sympathetic character. Her compassion and curiosity win us over completely. Pearce (Memento) comes across as a busy, though loving, father who is in so much of a hurry that he fails to search for eerie secrets the old house is hiding or to see what’s actually happening with his troubled daughter.
Finally, I must give credit to those hideous creatures who took over the house and screen during the last part of this movie. Of course, with Guillermo del Toro involved, we expect nothing less. Remember the amazing ones in Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy flicks? Although smaller than the creatures in those two films, the little buggers succeeded in scaring me enough to leave a light on every night since seeing Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.
(Released by FilmDistrict and rated “R” for violence and terror.)
For more information about this movie, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.