Review: “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”

Plus: why there's no shame in loving horror movies

A few weeks ago, fellow Philly Post blogger Christine Speer wrote about the appeal of the disaster movie in “Bring on the Alien Attack.” “These stories make a promise that when the time comes,” she writes, “we will be able to put down our differences and fight together to preserve the life we want to live.” So then, what can we say is the allure of horror movies? Do they, like the disaster movies, unite individuals from decisively different backgrounds to fight the bigger bad?

Hell, no. Like an SAT analogy: disaster movie is to unity, as horror movie is to … being super-glad that that girl just got stabbed in the neck and not you.

It’s an inherent pleasure of watching horror movies that you know more than the characters, such as: not spending another night in a poltergeist-ridden house or not showing your boobs when there’s an axe murderer in the woods. But the boobs are exposed and the man in the mask comes a-stabbing. And you’re left feeling kinda happy. Not just because you believe they deserved it for being so stupid, but also because you’re really, really glad it wasn’t you. It is survival of the fittest at its basest.

The new horror film from Guillermo del Toro (producer and co-writer) Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is rife with such moments. In it, a young girl is brought to live with her father, Guy Pearce, and his girlfriend, Katie Holmes, in an old house that they are restoring. Quickly the girl is drawn to voices coming from the basement fireplace, only to discover they want more than just her friendship. There are times where you cannot believe they are leaving the poor girl in a darkened room or why the hell they don’t just leave the house.

While director Troy Nixey and designers do create genuinely scary instances and provide multiple occasions for us to feel intellectually superior, overall the movie is unsuccessful. This is in part due to the generic filming (do we really need another shot of Fall leaves blowing around a tree?) and the creatures themselves. Instead of allowing the fear to build from what we cannot see, the filmmakers inundate us with images of the creatures (which have tiny Gollum-like quality to them). Additionally, with many similarities — lonely young girl drawn to supernatural friends and adventures — Don’t Be Afraid ultimately suffers in comparison to del Toro’s masterwork Pan’s Labyrinth, which contains one of the scariest creatures and movie scenes.

Some might be drawn to the violence of the torture-porns (Saw, Hostel), others to the dark humor (Scream), but for many of us, it is schadenfreude that keeps us coming back.

Wait for Don’t Be Afraid to come out on DVD. Instead, go see Fright Night this weekend.

My Grade: C


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