First-time director Troy Nixey and Spanish fan favourite Guillermo Del Toro have collaborated to remake the 1973 TV Movie Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, bringing it to a new generation of potential young horror fans. This remake of the John Newland film and Nigel McKeand script is true to what people except from Del Toro, it goes back to the sources of fairy tales. The distinctly full-on prologue with its implied chisel versus teeth violence establishes that there is something macabre under Blackwood Manor. In the present day, Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes are rejuvenating the same long abandoned house, when Alex’s (Pearce) daughter, Sally (Bailee Madison), is sent to live with her dad.
Hidden and locked deep under the house lives scores of small monsters who get sustenance from the teeth of children, creating a horrific parable with the tooth fairy. Early on these ‘tooth fairies’ cannot roam freely around the house instead they resort to playing on Sally’s insecurities with their creepy hushed tones.
With her dad and his girlfriend, Kim (Holmes), as busy as they are, the only people with time for Sally are these mysterious voices from the basement. Inevitably Sally releases the lock freeing these monsters only for them to terrorise and torment poor Sally. This is all done to the anguish of the groundsman and terrible dissenting voice; he states that the house is not safe for children once or twice before dropping it, making his role redundant.
The dynamic of Nixey’s film plays out like a traditional haunted house fare with the monsters only revealing themselves to children. As per genre norms, nobody believes Sally. Her father even goes to the length of bringing in a doctor to medically assess her sanity.
Horror is rife with neglectful parents, Alex, on the other hand, is something special, not only does he question the sanity of his daughter; he also places more value on the fixtures and fittings for the house than his daughter’s well-being. It is left up to Katie Holmes ‘character to play the parental figure and although underwritten, she performs this role well. Her casting does cast doubts over the film though, Sally and Kim don’t know each other, yet they look like mother and daughter.
Guy Pearce isn’t up to his usual lofty standards and Katie Holmes is better than she has been in years, the real plaudits belong to Bailee Madison. The character she plays has been broken by bad parenting with all her neuroses and insecurities being brought to the front. It would be all too easy for the young actress to become precocious and annoying, yet the reverse is true. Madison is good enough to carry the film enough for you to care profusely about her wellbeing.
The set design and the architecture of the Blackwood mansion is gorgeous, the general look is as per expectations for such a building yet lurking away on the wooden framework is carpentry of such exquisite detail it’s a shame more of a feature isn’t made out it. There is also art adorning the walls around the house which is gloriously gothic and memorably in every sense of the word. The set design is deserving of more effecting than the film will amass.
Then the house of cards toppled under its own weight. First and foremost is the character design of the little monsters, when they first scuttled along the floor any fear that was built up from there hushed conversations with Sally is killed stone dead. Their appearance is far too slapstick for a straight horror. This isn’t helped when they talk in person. It’s not just that line of analysis what kills the value of the horror stone, the reliance on basic and obvious jump scares contributes its fair share too.
Nixey and Del Toro have failed in their collective effort to make a horror film to intoxicate a new generation of horror fans. With more creativity in the editing suite to make the more bloody moments less explicit, would have made it more than possible for this film to be rated what was needed – a 12. Unfortunately that isn’t the case, this is a 15 rated film which is toothless for the audience who are old enough to see it and out of reach for the audience it was intended for. Don’t be afraid of the dark is a well-made directorial début that clearly shows great potential, but also a film that has been doomed to failure by the collaborative efforts of poor editing and the classification board.