From the previews Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark appeared to be another typical Guillermo Del Toro romp. Alas, it was not to be. Instead of the incredible ingenuity of Pan’s Labyrinth or the satisfyingly depressing conclusion of The Orphanage, Del Toro stamps his name as “producer” to a film that collects multiple genres and ideas then stitches them together haphazardly. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark lingers more in the horror kid’s section next to the R.L. Stine after school specials, but with amped up gore. It would be like an HBO special, Gulliver’s Travels meets Taxi-Cab Confessions. Or worse, David the Gnome meets Oz.
Sally was just sold to her father by her mother. Her father, Alex, (Guy Pearce) has a live-in girlfriend/partner Kim, played by Katie Holmes – who apparently did NOT sell all of her maternity clothes, because she prances around in outfits that most pregnant women pitch to Goodwill. Naturally Sally and Kim don’t get along, and naturally Alex doesn’t care. It’s standard horror movie archetypes – one parent believes the hysterical child, the other is too lost in the real world to notice his daughter is being chased by rodents.
The gnome story is derived from some insanely made up folk lore. The light sensitive gnomes live underground and every few years they surface to feed on human teeth, preferably children’s teeth (their version of veal). They kidnap children though, and then barter for their release. It seems trivial, and it is. After the original owner of the house fails to comply with their contract, he’s sucked into the furnace with his boy. Why no one tore the building down, or threw a grenade down the furnace is anyone’s guess. Just like any infestation, standard household chemicals should do the trick, but here Sally sticks to more traditional methods – like flash photography, and switch blades, the latter of which the gnomes use for their own amusement.
A remake of the 1973 TV movie of the same name, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark draws multiple influences from Del Toro, but it shares so little in kind with is work. Instead of limitless creativity and legitimate thrills, Dark limps along on laughable scares and nothing unique to it’s core. Whereas the original probably had some zeal in the 70s, modern audiences can’t watch a film about tiny goblins who whisper sweet nothings like “Noooo, the liiiigghhttt huuurrrttss usss,” without snickering. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is another cash grab, wasting A-list actors like Pearce, and juxtaposing them with has-beens like Holmes, and tagging a heavily lauded director’s name on it to make some bucks.
The end product is a hodge podge of ideas stitched loosely together. To make matters worse, Holmes displays her unbelievable acting chops like a world class amateur, and delivers her lines like a tree. If there’s one redeeming quality about the film it’s that the set designs were breathtaking, adding a wonderful backdrop to a rather dismal excuse for horror. Del Toro was supposedly inspired greatly by the original. Maybe in the future, instead of letting some novice director take the reigns, he’ll do it himself.