It wouldn’t be the end of summer without a stream of mid-budget B-movies that are barely discernible from each other; so we shouldn’t be surprised to find Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark at the megaplex this weekend. It stars Katie Holmes as an innocent pretty lady dragged into a haunted house, alongside a little girl with an unsettling connection to the Paranormal.
Having covered that, it might be tempting to write off Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark without seeing it. But doing that wouldn’t just be unfair to the film, it’d be just as unfair to you – this is a film that follows all the tropes of Horror, but never feels very stiff as a result.
Holmes’ character, Kim, ends up being more a supporting character. The film centers around the little girl, Sally, who’s moved from one coast to another, by one parent to the other. When she arrives in Rhode Island, her architect father moves her into his freshly-renovated historic estate, and it’s creepy mansion.
With a dark, windy autumn whipping about outside, Sally discovers a hidden basement in the house, and from there runs into some new friends that may or may not have homicidal tendencies.
This creaky setting makes for a lot of decent scares. Some of them are cheap (something popping up out of nowhere,) but not without a thick layer of dark, empty atmosphere wrapped around it. It was enough to get a few body-flinches out of this fearless (and handsome) writer.
There was reason to believe Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark would rise above the rest of Hollywood’s (at best) ho-hum Horror flicks. Its commercials proudly bare its relation to surprise celebrity director Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro only co-produced and co-wrote this feature, however, leaving directorial duties Troy Nixey – a man who only has one short film and a series of comics to his name.
Any anxiety over whether Nixey would blow his big break fail to materialize with his feature debut – Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is full of joyfully scary moments. It’s never silly, but it’s clear the filmmakers had a lot of fun with its monsters – tiny furry critters with a soft spot for sharp things – skittering about in the shadows, they’re whispers issuing from nowhere in particular.
It’s all very much in the vein of del Toro, though without that director’s penchant for the passionately weird and unsettling. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark plays like Hollywood version of Pan’s Labyrinth – there aren’t any traces of tragic masterpiece, like the del Toro’s 2006 film that had it bursting from the seams, but even after you take that out there’s still enough vision left underneath to bring together a worthwhile little horror film.