Director: Troy Nixey
Writers: Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins and Nigel McKeand
Principal cast: Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce and Bailee Madison
Release date: 7th October 2011.
Leaving behind the trappings of the city, troubled youngster Sally (Madison) arrives at the mysterious Blackwood Mansion to stay with her father Alex (Pearce) and his new partner Kim (Holmes).
As Alex and Kim continue to restore the estate to its former glory, the old house slowly gives up its dark secrets whilst the sinister events that befell the previous occupants come back to haunt the present.
The house and its other inhabitants have begun to play a sinister game with the newly arrived girl.
Guillermo del Toro seems to be presenting himself as something of a modern day Alfred Hitchcock or William Castle, a director turned showman whose name adorns the credits of the latest spine tingler that will induce an audience to spend two hours in cinema escapism.
In this instance the movie maker has adapted the script of an obscure American television film from the seventies that consists solely on the premise that demonic fairies exist and love to drag their unfortunate victims to hell.
Can director Troy Nixey and a cast that includes established thespians Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes as well as newcomer Bailee Madison convince a modern audience that this is worth the price of a cinema ticket?
Nixey certainly ensures that some nice touches are incorporated within the cinematography as the mist laden and colourless surroundings of the deteriorated old estate combine with the engulfing shadows and seriously subdued lighting that inhabit the interior of the old mansion.
The resulting atmosphere is certainly in tune with the best of the haunted house genre, namely the seminal Robert Wise chiller, The Haunting (1962) and the more recent melodrama, The Others (2001).
Maybe there is also a slight nod to the macabre fun and classy horror favoured by Sam Rami and seen in his excellent comedy Drag Me to Hell (2009), especially with the gore infested prologue that hints at the exploits undertaken by the previously cursed tenants of the Blackwood estate.
There is also a hint of Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland about proceedings as hidden chambers and mysterious tunnels are unearthed thus providing an escape from the mundane and everyday whilst garden mazes, fairies and primeval creatures from the netherworld share a similarity to Guillermo del Torro’s own cult favourite Pan’s Labyrinth (2006).
It is uncertain whether the film wishes to play the part of a dark fairytale or an out and out horror story and the fairies that attempt to drag our young heroine into the darkness below are certainly a gruesome and grizzly bunch that would not be out of place in a Lord of the Rings adaptation.
Nixon seems adapt at creating the atmosphere and tension needed to set the scene for the serious scares that should ensure, but the vibe always seems more tense than spooked whilst there is a feeling that the third act is in need of a twist, revelation or escalation of events to maintain the attention of the viewer.
Holmes plays her part well and the hinted at but never explained past experience of her character provides the predictable bond with the younger Madison, who visually seems to be a child clone of the actress whilst Pearce may well be underused in terms of his role as the absent father figure preoccupied with the events of big business taking place in the outside world.
The cast like the film’s director give a stylish performance but ultimately Don’t be afraid of the Dark fails to live up to it’s potential or title as the movie heads towards a standard genre finale that fails to build on the character foundation laid down earlier in the film.
A classy and sometimes gruesome fairytale that ultimately falls short in terms of a satisfying climax or the all important scare factor.