Sally is a young, sad girl whose just been shipped off to live with her dad. Both her dad and his interior decorator girlfriend are up to their elbows in restoring a beautiful old house which Sally isn't particularly fond of. What's worse, there are evil little creatures living in the basement who are out to get her but of course, everyone thinks she's making it up.
I wasn't sure what to make of DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK at first, beyond the fact that I was annoyed with the silliness of its initial trailer. A black screen with a screechy voice flapping nonsense like, "you're sitting there...alone in the dark..." like it's actually talking to you for more than a few seconds gets old fast (besides, you can't force mood or tension people), not to mention that this was yet another one of those flicks that's had trailers circulating the internet for what felt like forever (remember how long CASE 39 floated through limbo before being released?). The premise felt wobbly at best, the focus was on a little girl who didn't look like she could act, and when you scraped away all the mud the only thing going for it was Guillermo del Toro's involvement which isn't enough to carry a film, even though it should be. The problem here isn't what DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is (a mediocre horror flick), it's what it could've been (a stellar monster tale with real bite).
Guillermo del Toro is an artist to be sure, as the locale is breathtaking at all times. The outdoor garden area of this estate is not only monstrous, but filled with equally cool decor and substance. There's a mini labyrinth that I'm sure he put in there as a wink in PAN'S LABYRINTH's direction, the fountain and fish are a nice touch and the flowers blowing in the wind make the whole place feel alive with magic. The house itself is nothing short of extravagant, from the original architectural designs (loved the treelike doorway), to the wood, flooring, high ceilings and windows. This is exactly the type of structure you want for a gritty haunted house scare-fest, with an evil cellar that Ash himself would be proud of. When it comes to style, visuals and pulse pounding atmosphere, this flick had it in spades. Alas, this is where the praise ends however and the problems begin.
The opening sequence unlocks some interesting lore, it wasn't one hundred percent original but it was enough to get any audience motivated, but when you flash forward to modern day, the energy dries up and vanishes. I can't complain about our little critters too much, for GCI they were immaculate, but it's all been done before and tied together much better. A couple genre films with similar ties to this one, THEY and DARKNESS FALLS, weren't perfect films either but I have to say I enjoyed both of those flicks more than I did this one because they felt like a full story that didn't bounce around and try to be five different things all at once. I loved the art in this film, that mural in the basement was insane, but they never really went anywhere with it despite everyone in the film being remotely artistic.
DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is like running through the forest at night during a thick fog, barefoot, with no flashlight, surrounded by paths that all lead nowhere. These creatures (who have no names, though the idea of them being sprites, fairies or gnomes is tossed around loosely) live in a hole covered by a flimsy grate in the basement of this house. Where this hole leads...unknown. What drives these creatures other than eating children and teeth (which is also debatable at this point)...unknown. How or why they turn others into things like them...unknown. Why anyone's supposed to care about Guy Pearce's typical work obsessed father character with Katie Holmes being the "stepmom" the little girl hates at first and then warms up to...unknown. And don't get me started on the ridiculous ending that doesn't make much sense, nor does it do anything to satisfy the audience on any level. Again, I see what this film is and what it could've been and those are two very different films. Sadly, we're stuck with the mediocre version and one giant leap backward for horror films.