Monday, February 27, 2012

Mindless Movie Monday: Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark (2011)

Guillermo, you did me wrong! What were you thinking?

 Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is mind-numbingly awful, I might as well say it straight out.  It's just so...bad.

To be completely fair, I can't even recall the television movie of the same name.  I may or may not have seen it, but seeing this updated version certainly didn't bring back any memories, good or bad.

With both writing and producing credits to his name, Guillermo del Toro (The Devil's Backbone, Pans Labyrinth, among others) brings us a film directed by Troy Nixey that for being R-rated, brings less scares than an especially tense episode of Glee.  Having just witnessed on the big screen the marvel that is The Woman in Black, I am well aware that a PG-13 movie can still deliver the goods, so just knowing that DBAOTD is a film made for age 17+, just seriously appalls me.  What the hell gave it an R rating?  There was very little blood, few curse words, no nudity, and definitely NO intense frights.

Another house to add to my list of horror favorites, to be sure!
Ten year old Sally (Bailee Madison) is sent by her unfeeling mother to live in Rhode Island with her architect father Alex (Guy Pearce) and his interior-designer girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) at Blackwood Manor, which the couple is renovating with plans to not only sell it, but to get it onto the cover of Architectural Digest and revitalize dad's career.  The house itself is a hell of a gothic beauty- not just on the outside but the inside as well, filled with beautiful mahogany staircases and molding, ageless antiques, and equipped with the requisite creepy (yet amazing) basement, which we learn as the film opens was the site of a horrific family tragedy which has of course marred the house.

Wait, is that Suri Cruise?  Nope, Bailee Madison.
Sally (who looks strikingly like a young Katie Holmes) is a rather despondent little girl.  Mom has been dumbing her down with Adderall so she doesn't have to deal with with her, leaving Sally to be a brooding, eye-shifting, neglected mess. 
When Dad puts a carousel night-light in her bedroom to help her sleep, its little tune awakens something in the long-forgotten cellar.  We hear voices coming from the old fireplace, whispers that call to Sally and make her curious enough to sneak through the house in the dead of night with a flashlight to investigate.  Believe me, she's much braver than you or I would be in the same circumstances.

They're coming to get you, Sally....
We don't have long to wait to see what it whispering to Sally, they are shown to us fairly early on in the film.  Unfortunately, the little creatures (for lack of a better word) reminded me more of the sub-humanoid stop-motion monsters in the old Full Moon Subspecies features.  In twenty years this is all the farther we've come?  They are a ridiculous cross between a rat and a gargoyle, and the CGI is as annoying as it is sub-par.  I'm just so damn sick of crappy CGI, how many times must I say it?
These little scurrying monsters cast a spooky shadow, but when they present themselves and you could pretty much kick them to the curb like a hockey puck:  NOT. SCARY.  They also put me in mind of the Compys from the second Jurassic Park movie - but of course the wee compsognathus is a much more terrifying specimen than what have here.  These little jaspers growl and snarl and make crazy faces at Sally, and the more she tells her dad about them, the loonier he thinks she is, even calling in the child psychiatrist for a chat.

Meanwhile, Sally gets blamed for shredding a few of Kim's dresses with Alex's straight razor, and after a bit of a fit, Alex tells Sally to go to her room.  Knowing that the sharp-implement-loving creatures are behind the deed, Sally draws pictures of them that Kim ends up finding.  She becomes concerned (um, hello? No kidding!) and tries to convince Alex that something is going on.  Alex is too busy with his career and hosting a dinner party for his architectural friends to be in the least bit eager to leave.  Thankfully, Kim has a heart and she and Sally grow closer, determined to convince Alex that there is indeed, something to be scared of.

Naturally, the "terror" of the creatures escalates, but I really can't get behind what they are trying to do here.  Like I said, if the creatures were in the least bit scary, I might be more inclined to enjoy the atmosphere of the awe-inspiring yet ominous house, but I almost felt stupid for watching this film.  It actually started to make me a dumber individual! 

Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce in the most fantastic basement I have ever seen!
None of the acting is that bad.  In fact, Bailee Madison was quite convincing with her fear.  Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce are fine, but just fine.  Not excellent.  But when you factor in the dreadful script, they really didn't have much to work with. 

I expected so much more when I originally heard this film was being made.  I mean, del Toro has a reputation for exemplary work, even though he seems to be rumored to have about fifty different films in the works. Like one of the lines in The Breakfast Club, "I expected more from a Varsity letterman!" 
I have a sneaking suspicion that it may have been a scarier film if they would not have shoved the creatures down our throat, giving us glances of them at every opportunity.  The lousy CGI that generally kills any film of this kind did just that here.  In a world where things that lurk in the basement are made to jump out at us and say cheese, it just falls utterly flat. I am a much bigger fan of what you can't see.

Again, I have no idea what made this an R-rated film.  There are a few moments of blood here and there, but nothing even remotely hair-raising or even macabre. It has the usual haunted house enticements:  tragic past, dark corridors, voices in the darkness, warnings from the doomed hired help, etc., but there's not really much else to say about it.  It had serious potential, and flopped terribly.  I'm assuming it is supposed to be a "monster" movie, per se, but wow. 

What probably didn't help my lack of enthusiasm for the movie is the fact that 1) I don't particularly like horror movies with kids in them.  I watch them, but find that even the worst of kids (i.e. Damien or Esther) fail to make me shiver, and 2) I'm not fond of tiny monsters, such as leprechauns, evil puppets or dolls, the previously mentioned subspecies, Gremlins, Chucky, etc.  I don't hate them, but they just don't do it for me. They just seem silly. (One exception to this are those ventriloquist dolls.  Anything with one of those in it will have me wetting my pants by the time the opening credits have finished!)
Worse than that even, I read somewhere the creatures in this particular basement were supposed to be fairies.  Um, really?

Also detrimental was the oh-so predictable and anti-climactic ending.  One that I saw coming a mile away. But hey, at least there was an ending.  Too bad I can't get those ninety-nine minutes back...


Franco Macabro said...

This one didnt really do anything for me either, but then again, all the blame cant go to Del Toro, he didnt really direct this one himself. But I do agree with you, I expected something better just because it had his name on it.

To me this is the kind of movie you watch when you are a kid and just starting to get interested in horror films....kind of like The Gate or House. Nothing too scary...but not exactly wholesome family entertainment either.

Which is probably the films main problem. When a film cant find it's audience and its hard to tell if the film is for kids or adults...then a film is in trouble. Look at Howard the Duck and Monster Squad, they had the same problem.

James Gracey said...

I've been meaning to watch this for a while now. I even picked it up and considered renting it at my local video shop (I opted to watch Drive instead). I have to admit I could feel my enthusiasm to check it out draining away a little while reading your review. Sorry you weren't enamoured with it – especially because of Del Toro’s involvement. The guy can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. I still intend to check it out, but perhaps I won’t allow my hopes to get too high before I see it. Unlike the original Woman in Black… My hopes were as high as they could be for that (your enthusiastic recommendations may have had something to do with it!) and it didn’t disappoint. I’d quite like to see the remake now, too. But I digress. Cool review of a film I’m still kinda looking forward to checking out. Hope you’re well!

Christine Hadden said...

TFC: True enough, the blame cannot fall directly on del Toro nor, and if you ask my opinion, on the director. It's highly possible he did the best he could with the material provided, I don't know. Either way, I really wanted to like this one as I love a good haunted house film... But alas, another one for the fire, lol...

James: I agree that del Toro hangs the moon as well, love his work. The Devil's Backbone in particular is a wonderful ghost story. And like I said above, he cannot be blamed alone for this one. It's a poor film that strived to be a good one and failed. It happens. It's still disappointing. Perhaps you will find more to like than I.

I'm so glad you liked the original Woman in Black, I knew damn well you would. Now get yourself off to see the remake, it too is quite a lot of fun!

I will check in with you soon!

Kristine said...

I totally agree with you. Not only was I dissappointed in the movie itself, but also in Guillermo del Toro.. I usually love his work - both movies and books, but this was just plain awful.

Franco Macabro said...

I've never seen the original version of this film, I wonder how it compares to this one....I think I will try and hunt the original one down to see what its like.

Unknown said...

To me this movie wasn't "bad" so much as it was just overwhelmingly disappointing. Reeked of been there, done that. Of course the terrible acting didn't help.

Christine Hadden said...

Kristine: It is hard for me to believe he had any hand in it, especially in the final product, considering how amazing his own films are. Ugh.

Thanks for reading!

TFC: Let me know if you watch the original, I'm curious if it fares any better!

JP: Yes, that was one of my main gripes as well - there was really nothing new to speak of. Even the story itself seemed contrived.
Again I say: Ugh.

(But thank you for reading!!)

Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

Franco Macabro and Christine Hadden, yes, watch the 1973 original version. It's an excellent made-for-TV horror film.

You can buy it on DVD-R or Blu-ray-R at Warner Archive or, failing that, Amazon.