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.

As expected, it takes Sally a little while to get adjusted to her new surroundings, especially since neither Kim nor Alex don’t seem overly concerned about spending time with her. Aside from an offer to bake scones together (really, scones?), they ignore poor Sally because they’re way too focused on getting the house ready to sell.

Left to her own devices, Sally eventually wanders off to a nearby forest where she finds the gateway to the basement that nobody knew about. Curious like most kids are, Sally hears the eerie whispers of the creatures who mysteriously know her by name. But rather than be afraid, she takes them up on her offer to be friends.

Sally quickly learns the error of her ways, though, whenever she goes to bed. One moment her teddy bear is speaking to her, the next the carousel that plays the creepy circus music is spinning even faster. Later on, Sally’s being accused of cutting up Kim’s favorite dresses when really, it’s those pesky basement dwellers attacking instead. And before long, these creatures who only thrive in the darkness, are crawling in her bed and relentlessly taunting her.

When Sally tells her parents what she’s been experiencing, however, they blame her anti-depressants and go about their business. Worse yet, when Kim hears Sally screaming, she moves at a veritable snail’s pace to get to her. Sure, strange occurrences may be happening left and right, but it barely registers with dim-witted ol’ Mom and Dad. Someone call Child Protective Services, please!

Unfortunately, the storyline, which bordered on asinine to begin with, even manages to get more ridiculous in the final act. Not only do these actors, especially Holmes, suffer from the mind-numbing malady of possessing only one facial expression, but the logic behind their actions, let alone that of the creatures, simply doesn’t make any sense. There are so many questions, but very few answers.

Maybe the filmmakers thought you’d be too scared to notice these inconsistences, but chances are, you’ll just wish you had those 99 minutes back. After all, there’s not much about Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark that’s actually worth investing in, unless you’re game for cheap thrills, lackluster acting and a story that was better left untold.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Social drinking at a party. A child takes anti-depressants.
  • Language/Profanity: One instance where Jesus’ name is taken in vain, plus a single use of “hell.”
  • Sex/Nudity: Alex and Kim are an unmarried couple who live together, but there is no sex or nudity depicted.
  • Violence: Establishing the freaky house’s history, a man hoping to reconnect with his missing son “obeys” the whispers of the creepy, demonic characters inhabiting the basement and kills the family maid and extracts her teeth per their request. There’s lots of blood and gore throughout, especially in the opening scene. Turns out, though, the creatures prefer children’s teeth most of all, which is why they torment a young girl who moves into the house later on. Several disturbing scenes follow as they try and attack her in the bathtub, as she sleeps, and even at a family dinner party. Another character is attacked and has scissors stuck into his leg (he later pulls them out, in front of Sally, no less). An elderly grandmother type is also attacked, as well as Sally’s dad and stepmom. Another character is killed when the creatures pull her into their abyss.
     

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.