Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Review of Don’t be Afraid of the Dark

Many apologies. Due to a blown fuse at Clarke Towers, my review of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which opens here today, failed to make it into The Ticket. Here it is for your consideration. DON’T BE AFRAID OF …

Fri, Oct 7, 2011, 18:40

   

Many apologies. Due to a blown fuse at Clarke Towers, my review of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which opens here today, failed to make it into The Ticket. Here it is for your consideration.

DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK

3 stars

Directed by Troy Nixey

Starring Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison, Jack Thompson, Julia Blake, Alan Dale, Trudy Hellier

16 cert, gen release, 99 min

If the latest horror film to be “presented” by Guillermo del Toro had been a good bit worse, we would surely have filled paragraphs making fun of Katie Holmes’s home life. Don’t be Afraid of the Dark finds her trapped in a dysfunctional household populated by tiny malevolent beings. Get it?

As it happens, Troy Nixey’s remake of a cult 1973 TV movie has a great deal going for it. Not nasty enough for gore hounds, a wee bit too gruesome for the easily spooked, the film does seem somewhat unsure of its target demographic. But it features great performances, it makes good use of Celtic mythology and it features characters in whom one can (just about) believe.

As is often the case – particularly in the post-Spielberg era – the supernatural goings on come across as an external manifestation of domestic traumas. Young Sally (Bailee Madison) has been sent to live with her father (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Holmes) by a selfish, emotionally unstable mother. The couple have recently moved into a Gothic mansion and, having refurbished the interiors, are planning to make their fortune by flogging it to the nearest millionaire. (The imagined buoyant property market is probably the most implausibly fantastic element of the whole film.)

On her first night in the establishment, Sally hears appears to hear a stream of whispering, malevolent voices. Later, poking round a hitherto concealed basement, she encounters the source of the murmurings: stringy, sharp-toothed faeries modelled on the nastier sketches of Arthur Rackham.

The beasts are impressively designed, but their eventual appearance does undermine the obscure, brooding unease and nudge the film uncomfortably towards Gremlins territory. The success of those early scenes hangs around a really splendid performance from young Miss Madison. Twitching with convincing terror, she somehow manages to behave like a real brat – snapping continually at Holmes – without dispelling any sympathy for her unfortunate domestic situation.

All things considered, a very decent entry to the spooks-in-the-plumbing genre of haunted house movie.

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