Guillermo Del Toro is a busy man. While 2008’s Hellboy 2: The Golden Army was his last directorial effort, and with Pacific Rim, his next feature behind the camera, not due for release for another two years, he’ll have produced, or executive produced, a whopping 10 films in between, earning himself the reputation as one of the most talented filmmakers in the industry along the way.
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, a remake of a 1973 made-for-TV movie of the same name, and despite relatively disappointing business in the States – thanks to a much delayed release as producers Miramax were in the process of being sold by Disney – still arrives with the potential to be one of the best horror features of the year.
When young Sally Hirst (Madison) goes to live with her father, Alex (Pearce), as he and girlfriend Kim (Holmes) restore and renovate an old manor and estate, while she’s certainly not excited to find herself in new surroundings, she still didn’t expect the torrid time she experience soon after unpacking her bags. As a prologue forewarns, there’s something fearsome lurking in the basement, and when Sally inquisitively uncovers its secret doorway, boarded up by previous owners, released are a terrifying family of goblins that won’t stop until they get what they want, which quite worryingly, is her teeth.
Making excellent use of a more older-themed score, it’s important to point out up front, that Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is all-encapsulatingly scary, but not perhaps in the way you might have expected. Moving swiftly away from its title, after what’s lurking in the cellar is revealed very early on in the film, it instead strains your nerves with more full-on, obvious terror, instead of the classic tension and suspense-led scares of what you don’t see, but against all odds, proves just as effective.
The narrative and tone are both deeply chilling, and while playing everything out in a much more obvious fashion means it won’t stay with you quite as long as other similarly effective horrors may, for the 99 minutes in a darkened room, good luck staying unnerved.
While shooting, director Troy Nixey thought they could put it together as a PG-13 without compromising on the scares, but rightly it was rated-R, and this is one of the scariest films you’ll see all year.
As you’d expect with Del Toro involved, there’s wonderful character designs on the goblins, although it’s the young lead that gives the film much of its realism. With an assured Guy Pearce at her side, Bailee Madison steals the show, portraying terror and a wealth of other emotions with a confidence far beyond her years. Though on the flipside, Katie Holmes almost undoes such good work with a terrible performance, frustrating as her character is intended to grow more and more influential throughout.
Though a severe lack of an emotional bond to the characters ultimately holds the film back – while it is attempted, none of the three leads complete anything close to an involving character arc – Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is another c hilling horror produced under the wing of Guillermo Del Toro, and while this isn’t the perfect film yet, marks Troy Nixey out as a definite director to watch out for in the future.