Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was a hype machine before it actually came out in theatres. From the initial trailer that took place in almost complete darkness, to the comments that it was rated R based solely on how terrifying it is, well I was psyched. Unfortunately a mixture of poor box office performance and prior commitments such as getting married and going on a honeymoon meant that I was not able to see this in theatres. Some middling reviews were not enough to deter me however and I eagerly sat down to watch the recently released DVD.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a remake of a TV movie from the 70’s that I know many people have affinity for. I personally haven’t seen it, though I was interested even before the release of this version. This one makes it very clear right up front that it’s not having any of that TV movie shit and has a man chisel out a woman’s teeth within the first couple of minutes. That should indicate that you’re in for one hell of a ride but unfortunately the rest of the movie never lives up to that initial promise.
The plot centers on a little girl who is sent to live with her dad in this giant house that he and Katie Holmes are working on. Turns out this isn’t a normal house however. This is one of those kinds of houses that also comes with tiny goblin troll hunchback rat dinosaur little things that want to kidnap your children and eat their teeth. We then follow the usual routine of the child trying to tell her parents about all this and them not believing her, though to the movie’s credit one of the parents does get on board with all this way quicker than I’m used to in these movies.
I did like the main little girl in this movie. She looks like, and is portrayed, like a normal child, not your standard movie character kid who talks like an adult because the screenwriter doesn’t know how to pen dialogue for a child. She does make some pretty silly decisions early on, such as setting the creatures free from the vent in the basement purely because they ask her to. They do establish that she is lonely and I suppose in our loneliest moments, damn near all of us have toyed with the idea of hanging out with some ancient demon midget vampire gremlin things. So the child I was on board with. The dad however is kind of a dick and Katie Holmes, even when she is convinced these things are real, does tend to leave the child alone and defenseless in dark rooms. So I wasn’t as on board with those two.
The creatures themselves I have mixed thoughts on. The early scenes with them are quite effective as you only catch glimpses of them here and there as they scurry around the room. Plus whispering is creepy as fuck and these dudes do a whole lot of that. Once the initial reveal of them comes though, I found it to be a little underwhelming. These things aren’t all that scary looking. I mean holy shit don’t get me wrong I wouldn’t want to deal with these things myself but as movie creatures go, I would rank them above Ghoulies but far below Gremlins. Maybe somewhere around where the Critters would rank. Matters are also not helped when you hear their regular speaking voices. No wonder these guys whisper all the time; their real voices are kind of dopey. Once you have had your first look at them the movie isn’t shy about keeping them fully visible in all their subsequent scenes. Once that mystery is dead, so is a lot of the suspense. Near the end they are even running around in broad daylight, which means I guess they forget their main rule that even the slightest bit of light hurts them. Watching one of these things wrestle a napkin away from a little kid tends to take some of the fright factor away from them.
That was my other issue with the film – it’s not all that scary. The first half hour or so has some effectively creepy scenes but again, once you see the creatures it destroys a lot of the tension. They never really pop out of anywhere or sneak up on you, they just walk out into the frame and start swinging around scissors and screwdrivers. The first 30 minutes and the final 10 are pretty good in terms of building and maintaining suspense, but the middle portion is unfortunately a little dry.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a great example of why my wife and I have an agreement that if any member of our family tells us they saw a ghost or a bunch of tiny teeth hungry dinosaur munchkin dudes, we drop everything and get right the fuck out of there. Oh and it’s also a decent, though somewhat underwhelming, film. Worth a watch at the very least I would say. If anything you should sit your child down for a viewing of it and then when the credits roll just calmly tell them that it’s a documentary about what happens to children who don’t behave. That’s just good parenting right there.