Monday, 18 June 2012

'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark' (2010)

A young girl sent to live with her father and his new girlfriend discovers creatures in her new home who want to claim her as one of their own.  (via IMDb)

We've come to expect good things from Guillermo del Toro (who co-wrote the film), but I was a little bit apprehensive going into Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, wondering how the little creatures I'd seen in the trailer could actually be scary. But they are, which is usually a good thing in a horror film. I don't think I'm alone in working out exactly what they are in the first few minutes, but I figure you're supposed to and it doesn't detract from the movie in any way - if anything it adds to it.

The plot is fairly basic House Horror, with a child being attacked and the adults not believing a word she says, attributing everything to bad behaviour. So on that level you could say it's fairly one-dimensional. But as I said about The Grey, sometimes a basic plot can allow for a complex story.

We instantly relate to 8-year-old Sally (Bailee Madison), whose Mom "gives" (her words) her to Dad (Guy Pearce). So she doesn't want to go home. But then Dad cares more about his job than his daughter, so she doesn't want to stay put. Throw in the New Girlfriend/Replacement Mother character (Katie Holmes) and poor little Sally is stuck between a very large rock and a very hard place.

A very compelling and emotional performance from Madison is what takes the film to a higher level - she really does a fantastic job at scared, upset, distraught, unwanted, happy, curious, sad, and much more. Guy Peace is predictably fine, giving a solid performance for as much as one is needed (the story isn't really about him). Katie Holmes is on good form as well, really getting to grips with the subtlety of her role and exploring it on various levels.

All in all, it's a good film, with more focus on character and emotion than a lot of modern horrors. There are a fair amount of jumps and only the odd niggle to complain about (I thought Holmes' character was going somewhere it didn't, which is a shame). Del Toro brings a sprinkle of the Fairy Tale magic seen in Pan's Labyrinth and the film is beautifully shot. The ending may divide viewers (but don't all good endings?) and things are left a little ambiguous, but there's lots of fun to be had. Recommended.

Read more of Neil's movie reviews.

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