'Don't be Afraid of the Dark' review / Susan Granger
Wanna have nightmares? They're inevitable after experiencing the primal horror of this remake of the 1973 telefilm, a haunted house tale starring then-young Kim Darby.
After leaving her neglectful divorcee mom behind in Los Angeles, nine year-old Sally Hurst (Bailee Madison) reluctantly moves into crumbling Blackwood Manor in Rhode Island with her ambitious architect dad, Alex Hurst (Guy Pearce), and his new girl-friend, interior decorator Kim Raphael (Katie Holmes). They're hoping Architectural Digest will reward their renovations with a cover story.
"This house is unsafe for a child," warns the grizzled, old groundskeeper, Mr. Harris (Jack Thompson). And petulant, precocious Sally whimpers, "I don't like it here."
But no one listens to ominous warnings or whimpering. So, spurred on by intimate, rasping whispers that beckon her to the boarded-up lower level, lonely, little Sally discovers an army of tiny, beady-eyed, snarling beasties that devour children's teeth. But despite her incessant screaming, no one will believe her.
Indeed, when Kim's clothes are found shredded in her closet, Sally is suspected of causing the damage. "I feel like the evil stepmother," she complains. Eventually, conflicted Kim picks up on the clues and investigates the Gothic mansion's macabre history. It seems that 100 years ago, Emerson Blackwood and his son mysterious disappeared into the basement, and ravenous, malevolent monsters still swarm in a deep, dark, secret space behind the grate of fireplace flue.
"I'm fascinated by monsters and secretive, dark places," confesses Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth"). "To me, fairy tales were the cradle of horror narration. I love exploring that. I love insects and unborn things."
Serving as producer, Guillermo del Toro co-wrote the screenplay with Matthew Robbins, leaving the atmospherically menacing directing to Troy Nixey, who shows what the sharp-clawed creatures look like, perhaps, sooner than one might hope. Sometimes it's creepier not to know exactly what savagery lurks in the shadows.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is a suspenseful, scary 7, filled with spooky, supernatural terror.