DVD Review: “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” (2011)

15 02 2012

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” opened in theaters August 6, 2011.
It was later released on DVD and Blu Ray on January 3, 2012.

When people in movies hear a suspicious noise, why do they always walk TOWARD it?
This is one of the thoughts I have whenever I (infrequently) watch horror movies, and “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” was no exception.

Lucky for me and my perpetually nervous sensibility, the first scenes were the worst. The latter 92% of the film was more suspenseful and intriguing. I had the willies, but I wasn’t cowering on my couch!

The movie opens veering through a grand home, ornate wood and intricate glass adorns the path. Flickering candles and the ring of a maid’s bell echoes bounce off stone walls.

Driven mad by little whispering deviants, man of the (enormous) house Lord Emerson Blackwood lures his servant to the basement. There, he kills her and offers her teeth to the raspy clamor coming from his flue, as a sort of ransom for the return of his son (who we can only assume has been sucked into their fireplace dwelling).

Opening credits roll, about a century or so passes, and up the driveway comes Sally Hirst (played by Bailee Madison). The eight-year-old has been sent to spend time with her estranged father Alex, an architect (played by Guy Pearce)  and his girlfriend Kim, a designer (played by Katie Holmes) as thy restore the estate.

My understanding is this scenario differs significantly from the original CBS movie-of-the-week plot. The 1973 version starred Kim Darby as Sally Farnham, an inheritant of the home, who even as an adult is targeted by the fanged fairies.

Madison is adorable and all, but her character’s boundless curiosity was a little unbelievable. In more ways than one.
From finding the entrance to a “secret” basement on the property, to sneaking away to pry open a creepy little cast-iron door from which she hears voices, to dazedly carrying on a conversation with her possessed stuffed bear toy — Sally doesn’t show an ounce of true fear until the demented mole-men wield household tools [razors, nails, scissors, screwdrivers] against her while she’s in the bathtub.

Of course the crazy old contractor, Mr. Harris, interferes at every opportunity, having learned of the twisted force years ago, from his grandfather who was groundskeeper of the formerly illustrious manor.  Harris’ willingness to save Sally and get the whole family to understand the very real danger they face, almost gets him killed.

Alex, reluctant to indulge his ex-wife’s claims that Sally is emotionally unstable, nor agree that she be medicated, doesn’t buy into Sally’s allegations that something evil’s afoot.
But Kim does.

Although she was at first apprehensive about being a new mother figure to her partner’s allegedly troubled child, a wide-eyed Holmes’  jumps at the chance to befriend, and then defend, young Sally.

With the help of Mr. Harris’ labored breathy clues, Kim goes to investigate the late Emerson Blackwood, and the local lore about his property, called ‘ Fallen Mill,’ at the public library. She is shaken by the similarities between Blackwood’s unpublished catalog of artwork and the images Sally has been drawing. The excited ramblings of the librarian’s assistant, a Blackwood fan and believer in local conspiracy theories, help Kim piece together the situation she’s up against.

Blinded by the opportunity to win over a Mr. Jacoby, who has something to do with either selling the property or getting it more publicity, dad has little time for Kim and Sally’s games.

During a dinner party with the Jacoby’s and other real estate figures, one of the naughty creatures ventures under the table and is taunting Sally.  Armed with a Polaroid instant camera she crawls about, using the flash to keep the demons at bay. The chase brings Sally, followed by a herd of guests, to the library. Instead of believing whats just happened before their eyes, they stare unnervingly at the child.

It is not until the film’s finale that Alex leaps to action.  It is not stated out-rightly, but the “leader” of the little intruders is in fact Lord Blackwood. When the group takes a new victim, that individual becomes of of them.
As the trio are preparing to pack and flee the mansion, Alex is confronted by the transformed Blackwood, and rendered unconscious in the garage.

Kim, who was knocked out herself, finally musters the strength, grabs a flashlight, and takes off toward the screams coming from the basement.  Alex eventually follows, though every door on the way through the house is now locked– the minions took his keys!
Once downstairs, Kim cuts Sally free from the dirty ropes the fairies are using to pull her into the chimney pit. She is tangled, her legs broken from behind. (Katie Holmes is a good screamer!)

Father and daughter take a moment to call out, fumbling with how to proceed.

Kim is heard, in hushed tones, assuring her new comrades that they have time. And someone will come.
Thus, the cycle of horror continues.
Much like the cycle of horror films, many of which are never out of the running for a reboot.

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RELATED ITEMS:

Rotten Tomatoes Review of “Don’t Be Afraid…” Remake

Roger Ebert Gives “Don’t Be Afraid…” Three Stars

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