VOD film review: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
James R | On 03, Oct 2015
Director: Troy Nixey
Cast: Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Bailee Madison
Watch Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
If monsters are hiding in the shadowy parts of your house waiting to eat you, don’t go running to Guy Pearce for help. He’s flipping useless. That’s the main lesson to take away from this Guillermo del Toro-produced horror based on the old 1970s TV movie. That and darkness? Yeah, it’s terrifying.
As the title suggests, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark relies on a simple device: the dark. It hides the unknown and the things that go bump. So the first half of Troy Nixey’s film is a string of unreliable torches, skirting boards, scuttling noises and spooky music. No, it’s not original, but that’s the point. What horror film hasn’t relied upon the fact that what you don’t see is what scares the most?
Of course, 10 year old Sally (Madison), stuck with her dad (Pearce) and his new girlfriend Kim (Holmes), sees everything. While the adults renovate an old house (pause to add in your head “… OF DEATH”), Sally explores the basement as tiny voices whisper to her. “Come here, Sally. We want to be friends,” the voices say. And silly little Sally listens.
Introducing a child protagonist into the mix is a very del Toro thing to do. It’s also what makes the movie work – Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes are good, but their parent-child relationship has none of the impact of other films, such as The Orphanage. Instead, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark uses its talented young lead to keep things as stripped down and tense as possible.
As Sally runs around catching glimpses of limbs and teeth, Nixey’s smooth, low-level camera captures that childhood feeling of terror. You’ll spend most of the movie trying to think of anything but what’s in front of you. Does your phone need charging? What about that shopping list you meant to write? Who were the seven wives of Henry VIII again?
It’s a shame that the terror fades away when the creatures are revealed – think Hellboy II meets Planet of the Apes – but the cliched set pieces are still fun. And as long as Sally’s on screen, you’ll feel less like biting your nails and more like chewing your whole hand off. Just don’t go running to Guy Pearce when you’ve got no arm left.