Many children of the ’70s have never forgotten a horror movie titled “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”. It was a cheapy TV movie but it had a powerful impact on lots of people who saw it. One such person was director Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”). Del Toro says that watching this 1973 ABC Movie of the Week is what made him decide to direct horror films.
The Oscar winning director decided to revisit the movie that started it all by writing a screenplay for a cinematic version of the story which opened in U.S. theaters this week. In this updated film del Toro returns to the subject of fairies: dark fairies.
Fans of del Toro’s work will recall that fey were featured in “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”. Del Toro has also authored a book in conjunction with “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” titled Guillermo Del Toro: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: Blackwood’s Guide to Dangerous Fairies.
While del Toro produced and co-wrote “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” he handed the job of directing to newcomer Troy Nixey (“Latchkey’s Lament”). This is the first feature film directed by Troy Nixey, and del Toro’s touch is apparent in the film.
The film features beautiful cinematography by acclaimed cinematographer Oliver Stapleton (“The Cider House Rues”). Stapleton also directed cinematography for two other magical films, “The Water Horse,” and “The Shipping News”. In “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” He creates an eerie, yet beautiful atmosphere. Stapleton uses CGI masterfully, creating fey that are both terrifying and realistic.
Del Toro honors the original movie but makes some changes to the story. In this remake, the main character, Sally, is not and adult, but a 10 year old girl played very well by Bailee Madison (“Bridge to Terabithia,” and “Wizards of Waverly Place”). Sally is an unhappy girl whose mother sends her across the country to live with her father Alex and his girlfriend Kim, played by Guy Pearce (“The King’s Speech”) and Katie Holmes (“Batman Begins”). Alex and Kim live in a scary old mansion that they are restoring and as soon as Sally arrives she begins hearing voices coming from an old ash shoot. Things go from bad to worse for Sally, whose father doesn’t believe her.
Changing the main character from an adult to a child works well because it both adds to the terror and makes more sense than the original story because adults tend to be dismissive of children. Don’t all kids think basements are scary and don’t they all think there are monsters under the bed?
The CGI fairies are well done and look like they were inspired by the work of fairy artist Brian Froud. They would have been a lot scarier, though, if we did not get to see so much of them. It is the unknown and the unseen that terrifies. The original was much more frightening because it barely showed the creatures.
All in all, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is well worth seeing out of nostalgia for the original, and for fans of Guillermo del Toro. It is well acted, well directed, and beautifully filmed, but the screenplay falls a little flat.
The original “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is available from Amazon.com in a newly remastered DVD Special Edition. Please click here for a review of the companion book to the new movie.