Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (Blu-ray)

Bailee Madison as Sally

I feel like I should start off by saying that I love Guillermo del Toro. His movies (HELLBOY, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, PAN’S LABYRINTH) are some of my favorites. His visual flair and knack for storytelling remind me of a bygone era of Hollywood filmmaking. In all honesty, he reminds me of some of the folks that I attended film school with – kids who have a natural ability to tell a story and have a visual acuity that was created by film makers of the past. He seems to have an uncanny ability to create a world that is both believable and fantastic. So, when I received DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK in the mail, I couldn’t wait to open it up and review it. I’m sad to say that the result of his co-written script (adapted from a 1973 teleplay of the same name) don’t live up to his previous entries.

The Blackwood Estate

 DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK opens in a beautiful old estate some time in the past. The owner of the estate is Blackwood, an interesting individual who appears to have lost his mind. His teeth appear to have been cut from his mouth and his rants point to a need to collect teeth to get his son back… for this he brings a servant to the basement as a sacrifice but when his efforts are not rewarded he is taken and drug beneath the earth. All we hear are whispers demanding children’s teeth and threatening violence if they are not given what they demand.

Bailee Madison

Cut to many years later. A young girl named Sally (young but experienced actress Bailee Madison of BROTHERS and BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA) has been sent to live with her estranged father and his girlfriend. They are living and working in the Blackwood estate, trying to restore it for sale to get Alex’s name back out in the world of architectural genius. The father, Alex, is played by Guy Pearce (MEMENTO, THE KING’S SPEECH) while his girlfriend Kim is played by Katie Holmes (BATMAN BEGINS, THE KENNEDYS). One of the central themes of the film is family relationships, which means that we get to see both the natural and cliché issues with the girlfriend trying to befriend her potential step-daughter.

The mural in Blackwood's basement

Sally’s arrival seems to trigger something in the house and in the people who have been working on the estate. There are whispers from the ventilation grates asking Sally to come play, telling her that her family doesn’t care for her… really creepy moments for the first half of the movie that bring back memories of films where the payoff WAS the creepy moments, not the orgy of special effects and monsters. Sally becomes driven to find out who her new friends are, leading her to unearth the terrifying sub-level of the home that had been sealed off.

The Homunculus's first appearance

Like all horror movies, this is where the suspense of disbelief becomes incredibly important (and much more difficult to achieve). Even though the estate workers warn them of the potential dangers in the basement, Alex (Pearce) refuses to believe that there could be anything wrong or any reason that this part of the house was closed off for years. He also doesn’t believe his daughter, who is either having a psychotic break or really experiencing the terrors that she claims. Thankfully (and surprisingly) this is when we get our best performances from the young Madison and Holmes, who form a believable bond which causes Kim to unearth the history of the estate where she has been working.

Katie Holmes and Bailee Madison

First time feature director Troy Nixey does a nice job with this film. It reminds me of a little movie called POLTERGEIST, strongly influenced by the writer/producer who crafted the story. As with any del Toro film, the world that he creates is undoubtedly HIS, you can feel his touch in the movie from the layout of the house down to the art work inspired by the horrific creatures which inhabit the area underneath the home. Sadly, the movie falters in the second act and loses some steam, becoming more of a monster movie than a true suspense/horror movie. The monsters are definitely creepy but it takes away some of the suspense that is building beautifully to this point. If you are a fan you will have a good time, but this isn’t the masterpiece of suspense/horror for which I was hoping.

BLU-RAY REVIEW

Video: (1080p, 1.85:1 Widescreen) As with all of del Toro’s works, this film has his stamp in the production design and the beautifully horrific creatures. This is a phenomenal transfer that will put you right in the middle of things.

Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) The audio is also masterfully done, whether it is whispers from the vents hinting at a great evil or lots of creatures scurrying across the floor – this is one that will run the gambit of your system’s capabilities.

Madison with Writer/Producer del Toro

Don’t Be Afraid… Documentary (20:50) A multi-part documentary which shows the development of the story intertwined with interviews with del Toro, Nixey, and other cast and crew. This actually adds a layer that is very interesting and makes me want to watch the movie again – but you shouldn’t have to have this kind of backstory/history to enjoy the intricacies of a movie. The documentary is broken into three sections – The Story, Blackwood’s Mansion, and The Creatures.

Conceptual Art Gallery 68 pictures culled from the concept art used to create the film, you can either browse or watch a slide show. Some really creepy imagery here.

OVERALL 2.5
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