Horror films are a very interesting creature in the film industry. They can either earn massive acclaim from fans and critics or, just as easily, crash and burn at the box office. In recent years with the advent of movies such as Paranormal Activity and the Saw franchises, the standard of quality expected from horror films has undoubtedly changed. Whether this change is positive or negative really depends on who you ask.
As for this week’s subject, it comes with a very interesting history. Many of us are familiar with the work of Guillermo Del Toro, the man behind Pan’s Labyrinth and the director of Hellboy II: The Golden Army. He was also the original pick when they were looking for a director for the Lord of the Rings prequel, The Hobbit. There was one film that Del Toro believed was the scariest thing ever put on film. That was a 1973 teleplay by Nigel McKeand titled Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. It is this same teleplay that serves as the basis for this film.
Now, I haven’t seen the original, so I can only really tell you the story of the remake. This film follows a little girl named Sally, played by child actor Bailee Madison, whose parents have just gone through a rough divorce. She is sent to live with her father, played by Guy Pearce, who is currently working on restoring an old mansion. After discovering a hidden part of the house, she inadvertently releases creatures who persistently seek to claim her as their own.
The story starts out feeling a little forced as the film attempts to get through the back-story as quickly as possible. When the inciting incident occurs, the pacing becomes more enjoyable. One major plus with this film is the ability to properly build suspense, something that recent horror films have a problem with. There is no gore or repeated jump-scares like recent horror films have a habit of overdoing. It feels more like a classic horror film, something that frightens, not disgusts. One thing I must say, without giving anything away, is that, for an American horror film, the ending is bittersweet, which is both refreshing and disappointing at the same. However, the fact that I was invested enough to be disappointed by the ending shows that the film does successfully draw people in.
Within the first few minutes, you can immediately tell that Del Toro has his hand in this film. The elaborately designed sets as well as the choice of color for both the sets and the costumes for the characters echo the Del Toro style people have come to know and love.
The acting in this film is also done really well. The performances come across as realistic and fully developed, despite the overall lack of character development for most of the side characters. Madison’s performance in particular was done incredibly well, successfully communicating the complex feelings of a child belonging to recently divorced parents as well as providing realistic reactions to the supernatural threat.
This film was a mixed bag, but overall, I feel I got my money’s worth. If you’re a Del Toro fan, or a fan of classic horror films, then this is a film you’d enjoy. However, like many other horror films, this is a film you can only really watch once to get the full effect, so it’s best viewed with friends or if you’re going to the movies on Halloween. Overall, this film gets a 3/5. It’s a decent movie, but it’s something that you’d really need to be in a horror film mood to enjoy.