FrightFest 2011 started with a shiver, a jolt, a whisper and a vague whiff of disappointment with the opening movie, Guillermo del Toro produced/scribed freakish fairytale Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark.
After a 19th Century set prologue complete with mental dentistry and some feathery creepy credits, Dark’s opening act sets itself up as something akin to a tame US re-do of del Toro’s Pan's Labyrinth as depressed and displaced tot Sally (Bailee Madison) is unwillingly foisted upon her father (Guy Pearce) and new girlfriend (Katie Holmes) in the ridiculously austere and obviously haunted mansion they’re striving to renovate.
While this is the feature debut of Troy Nixey, GDT's influence is evident from the first, as youngster Madison, unhappy with her father’s new choice of partner, becomes increasingly private, discovers a hidden lair where monsters dwell and takes some gorgeously-shot ambles through the magic gardens of the estate.
Twisting the myth of the Tooth Fairy, it feels like it would work brilliantly as a my-first-horror for adventurous children, with a plucky heroine and monsters under the bed, reminiscent of Gremlins, Joe Dante’s latest The Hole, The Gate and kid friendly creature-feature fables like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal.
It’s a shame then that it’s been given an R rating (in the states – yet to be rated over here), partly due to occasional moments of gruesomeness and a sense of nastiness that’s going to seriously screw up little ones.
As an adult horror it has some successful scares and a pervasive sense of unease but it relies too heavily on loud noises, jumps and jolts. And while Madison is feisty if a bit American cutesie, Pearce and Holmes had too little to do and not enough depth, left with seen-it-all-before characterisation despite sterling efforts.
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is a lyrical, stunning-looking film, that’s entertaining, with a sense of fun, a rich mythology and a few great moments but essentially it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Grown ups won’t be afraid of the dark – this is more like del Toro light.
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