As it has with most popular trends these days, “vintage” filmmaking has found its way into mainstream cinema in recent years. While many genres are finding ways to incorporate a vintage feel with subtle nods to their inspirations, no other genre is as overt in citing their influences as horror.
Enter Troy Nixey’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.
The Guillermo Del Toro scripted and produced haunted house thriller is not only an apparent stylistic throwback, but a remake of the 1973 made-for-TV film of the same name.
Unfortunately, unlike many of the critically-acclaimed throwback horror films recently (The House of the Devil, and Insidious), Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark falls vehemently flat.
In the film,10-year-old Sally (Bailee Madison) is forced to live with her father, Alex (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) in an extraordinarily grim and gothic mansion.
Alex and Kim are in the process of renovating the old haunt in attempts to sell it for a profit.
Of course, as you’ve probably gathered, the house also comes equipped with some not-so-friendly demonic creatures that might make it difficult to put it on the market (though, in this economy, I suppose you better take what you can get).
A quick prologue in the beginning of the film introduces the history of the house and its insidious inhibitors as a band of pint-sized, Gollum-like beasties who apparently need to feed on the teeth of children to survive.
Sally begins hearing strange voices calling her name through the vents and walls, and before you know it, she unearths a secret basement in the house and inadvertently releases the creatures.
Strange things begin to happen at the house–property gets destroyed, employees get into unexplained “accidents” working on the house.
Sally, however, knows it’s the creatures and tries to tell Alex and Kim who only accuses her of “acting out.”
Sometimes, parents just don’t understand.
Predictably, it takes the film’s under-fueled climax until Alex and Kim finally believe Sally, and of course, it’s too late.
What’s most frustrating about Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is that it has the potential to be a decent film. Unfortunately, Nixey’s hindered direction only adds to the confounded script, poor creature effects, and laughably bad acting has turned this potential gem into a caricature of horror films.
With well-respected Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone) attached to the film, it’s unfortunate that the film becomes a victim to its own game by trying too hard to be vintage in all the wrong instances.
As such, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a muddled mess of poorly executed genre cliches and an insufferably bland script laughably played out by the film’s dull leads.
Overall Grade: C-
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark opens today in theaters everywhere, click here for theaters and showtimes.