DVD Release Date: January 3, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: August 26, 2011
Rating: R (for violence and terror)
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Drama
Run Time: 99 min.
Director: Troy Nixey
Actors: Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison, Edwina Ritchard, Bruce Gleeson, Julia Blake

Creepy old mansions housing things that go bump in the night are a staple of many a horror movie, and that’s just one of the many clichés that hamper Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, a scary movie that’s far scarier in completely unintentional ways.

Perhaps hoping to build some credibility for a film that’s been a wrap for more than a year now (never a good sign), the marketing team came up with a real doozy when they said it’s “presented by” Guillermo del Toro, one of the screenwriters for the upcoming Hobbit movies and the mastermind behind the superb horror-fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth. Serving as a co-producer and one of the film’s screenwriters, it’s simply baffling why he’d allow his good name to be associated with such dreck. Maybe he owed someone at Miramax a big favor?

Whatever his reasons, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark certainly doesn’t have his imaginative stamp. Not only does it suffer from a sheer lack of characters anyone could possibly care about, a crucial element considering whether they live or die is really the only thing at stake, but the tormenters themselves, a cross between an unfriendly Gremlin and a pint-sized Gollum from Lord of the Rings, eventually lose their scariness because they’re essentially one-trick ponies. Once you’ve seen them scurry around like small rats, screech at a decibel only dogs should be able to hear and bare those hideous fangs, you’ve basically seen it all.

Hoping to establish its spooky, creepy aesthetic from the outset, the camera slowly pans over each and every room in the Blackwood Manor, the historic Rhode Island property that Alex (Guy Pearce, The King’s Speech) and his post-divorce girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes, The Romantics) are restoring. Of course, what Alex and Kim don’t know is that the home—and its namesake—have a rather unsettling history. Beyond the doors in a basement they didn’t know even existed lies a host of demonic houseguests who lure children (and adults, if they’re the only ones available) to their eventual death. And yeah, they have a thing for teeth, apparently, particularly those belonging to the younger set.

Of course, Alex and Kim wouldn’t have even known these creatures lived there if it wasn’t for another horror movie cliché, the kid who knows way more than his/her parents, Sally (Bailee Madison, Just Go with It). After Sally’s mom decides she doesn’t want to take care of her daughter anymore, she’s shipped east to live at Blackwood Manor with Alex and Kim.