Friday, August 19, 2011

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

** Spoilers for those who don't want to know what the monsters are in the movie. **

Sally Hurst is unhappy. Her mother gives her to her father, Alex, like a baseball card and ships her far away from her home and friends. She has to live in a huge, gloomy house with Alex and his girlfriend, Kim. Introverted and quiet, Sally is miserable in the new house and just wants to go home. Her only solace is in the hidden basement she discovered while exploring. She hears voices call her name and opens a gateway that has held these creatures at bay for nearly a century. At first, they seem to just want to be her friend. After destroying Kim's things and brutally attacking a gardener, Sally realizes that they just want to manipulate and hurt her. Even after these strange incidences, Kim and her father don't believe her and think she's a disturbed little girl who needs a therapist. Can Sally convince them of the danger before it's too late?

I had the wonderful opportunity to see an advanced screening of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark thanks to Screamfest. I went in expecting a cheesy ghost movie that would be a rip-off of Paranormal Activity or the Amityville Horror that I would not enjoy. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was completely wrong. The film is actually a modern fairy tale with a lot of suspense mixed in. It starts off like a typical fairy tale with the unhappy daughter, stepmother, and father living together. Instead of an evil stepmother, Kim is actually very loving and the first person to believe Sally when she warns them about the menace in their house. She is more willing than Alex to get Sally out of harm's way even if it means losing money and prestige by cancelling an important dinner party. I like this role reversal from the typical fairy tale story. The reversal theme continues with the menacing creatures. They are fairies, which are typically the helpers to our young heroine, that have an affinity for teeth. Like the Tooth Fairy of my childhood, they leave money for teeth left underneath pillows, but they don't do this out of generosity. Their source of food is teeth and they especially like children's teeth. (For 2 clips with the tooth fairies, click here.) If you have seen Hellboy II, it's as if Guillermo del Toro took those tooth fairies, made them look a bit creepier, and gave them their own movie. Considering they were my favorite creature from that film, I am totally on board with this concept.

Unlike many other horror films, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark relies heavily on suspense and dark ambiance over heavy gore and torture. A couple of scenes are squirm inducing, but mostly due to implication. The very first scene in the film features the man who originally built the house removing his own teeth and the teeth of a maid to appease the tooth fairies and get his son back. Even with this scene and one other that is particularly creepy, this film should not be rated R. There isn't much blood and there is no nudity, cursing, or anything else I can think of that would warrant such a rating. The house is beautiful and the perfect gothic setting for the story. The music by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders enhances the creepy and haunting feel of the film. The architecture and the art of the original owner of the house are a perfect complement as well. The art was actually drawn by Keith Thompson, who also illustrated Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series and he creates magic with just a black and white palette.

The film, however, isn't perfect. A Polaroid camera is used extensively throughout the film. This may be a nod to the original version from the 70's, but a digital camera would have worked just as well. Plus Polaroid cameras aren't even made anymore, so it seems irrelevant in a modern film. The creatures' strengths and weaknesses fluctuated a lot throughout, from their numbers to the degree of their light sensitivity to their speed, without any real sense why. It seemed like if they had the same strength they had at the end, they could have easily won very early on, but then there would be no movie. That's not a good rationale and comes off as inconsistent story telling.

Overall, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a dark and wonderful deconstructed fairy tale. Bailee Madison's performance as Sally is nuanced, mature, and frankly amazing. I would recommend this to fans of dark fantasy and Pan's Labyrinth.

My rating: 8/10

1 comment:

Karen said...

I just found your blog because you signed up for The Ultimate Reviewers Challenge on mine.
OMG - I love your blog name!!
This is one creepy looking movie and I love Guillermo del Toro. very cool that you got a sneak peek.