Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark Review: Nothing To Fear

DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (15): On General Release Friday 7th October

It’s 1973 and Mr and Mrs del Toro are sleeping soundly in their beds. Their young son sneaks down the back stairs, into the lounge and bzzzzz (it is the seventies), the television flickers on. A pre-pubescent Guillermo watches aghast as TV movie Don’t be Afraid Of The Dark delivers its haunting content. He was afraid. And by the looks of it, he still is.

The Mexican director and producer’s latest nightmarish vision comes in the shape of a screeching group of shadow-dwelling, hairy little hunchbacks running around eating kids’ teeth (aka Homunculi). Inspired by the 1970s original and shaped by del Toro’s own brand of twisted fantasy horror, it has taken 16 years to bring the stuff of his childhood fears to the silver screen. But whether anyone else would find all these teeth-munching goblins scary does not seem to have crossed his troubled mind.

Little Sally Hurst (Bailee Madison) is sent to live with her father (Guy Pearce) and his latest squeeze (Katie Holmes) in Rhode Island after her mother decides that she has more important stuff to do than raise her rather miserable child. But Sally soon begins to discover that her dysfunctional family are not alone in the house and some creepy little creatures are out to get her.

Essential to any self-respecting horror plot is the disbelieving parent of the haunted child. Guy Pearce (The Proposition, Priscilla Queen of the Desert) assumes the eternally furrowed brow with panache and is far too busy revitalising his failing career as an architect to worry about his daughter. Katie Holmes (Dawson’s Creek, The Gift) also swiftly falls in line as the hated evil step-mother who, in turn, befriends and believes the lonely child.

As a horror film, this film is sadly lacking in…well, horror. We were all scared of the dark as kids and everyone secretly watched a late night film that haunted their dreams for months afterwards. But for most people, turning the light on or growing up was the simple remedy to these fears. Trying to convince the audience how genuinely scary the dark is rather a lost cause.

For many parents, the mental plight of tortured and depressed Sally will be the most scary prospect about the whole film. And young Madison’s performance outshines Pearce and Holmes by a long shot.

Simmering away beneath the surface of this bizarre broth is a somewhat sickening allegory about parents who do not value their children getting their just desserts. According to del Toro, it is this tense family dynamic that is supposed to provide the bulk of the drama. But the clichéd character development and predictable plot twists prevent any tension at all being derived from the trio.

That just leaves us with the monsters and the creepy house. As with Pan’s Labyrinth, the most impressive and intriguing thing about this film is the window it provides into del Toro’s unique imagination. The house is magnificently malignant and the enchanted garden to which Sally escapes is a thing of cinematic beauty.

The monsters themselves were supposedly given one of eight different personalities which were painstakingly developed in order to create more horrifying Homunculi. They are scary, but in a kind of cute way. The attention to every hairy detail and comic nature of some of their attacks (screwdriver to the knee, table cloth tug of war), sadly takes away from any genuine scare factor.

Watching the source of Guillermo’s infant fear running about and leaping out of the dark is a fascinating insight into the minds of one of the most creative monster movie directors out there. But it really might be time for Guillermo to sit down with a psychiatrist and have a good honest chat about his childhood.