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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010): The Teeth of a Clown

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (Troy Nixey, 2010)

Bailee Madision descends a massive spiral staircase on the movie poster.

Yesterday upon the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there.
photo credit: IMDB

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark didn’t leave a huge impression on me, despite my having heard some pretty good things about it (and, of course, having Guillermo del Toro’s name attached as a producer didn’t hurt any). I certainly don’t mean to imply that it is in any way a bad movie; there are far, far worse ways one can choose to kill ninety minutes, and I have reviewed more of those over the past twenty-eight years than I care to think about. But it felt more than once as if there was a great deal more that could have been done with this movie and never quite surfaced—with the end result being I found myself wondering on a few occasions if this wouldn’t have been a better film if del Toro hadn’t stepped into the director’s chair. Talk about having your marketing backfire on you.

Madison threatened by the house's resident beasties in a still from the film.

“I prefer white meat, but just this once, I’ll take thigh.”
photo credit: Twitchfilm

Alex (Rules of Engagement‘s Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend/business partner Kim (Go‘s Katie Holmes) take on a massive job—the renovation of the old Blackwood estate, which has lain empty since the previous owner and his son mysteriously went missing some time ago. Alex and Kim move into the old place and start designing, hoping to get it redecorated, then turn around and sell it. Through various machinations, Alex’s daughter from a previous marriage, Sally (Bridge to Terabithia‘s Bailee Madison), comes to stay with them. Cure dysfunctional family drama. But in this house, there are worse things than not getting along with your stepmother. After all, in the opening scene, they dispensed with old Lord Blackwood…

Katie Holmes glares at something offscreen while hugging Bailee Madison in a still from the film.

“Anyone else saying ‘I’m looking at you like you’re Tom Cruise’ might be saying it as a compliment…”
photo credit: hitfix.com

I should say at the outset that I haven’t seen the 1973 original John Newland made-for-TV film. That may be affecting my reaction to this one, though I cannot say for certain whether the film’s more violent detractors on various internet message boards generally fit that description. I did not have that same visceral reaction at all. In fact, as per the opening sentence of this review, I didn’t have much of a reaction at all. Pearce and Holmes turned in competent performances, but brought their B games. That is relatively forgivable, since Madison is the real star of this show, but she seemed…pale. I don’t want to say “anemic,” since she threw everything she had into the character of Sally, and seemed to be having a whale of a time doing it, which leads me to the conclusion that the problem was not with Madison, but with the script with which Madison was working. Del Toro is a known commodity, so let’s look up co-writer Matthew Robbins, shall we? And here is the genesis of it all. For every Cronos del Toro has turned out, Robbins has given the world a Mimic. And you know what they say about the bad apples. Amusingly, the Honeycrisp I just had for lunch looked as if someone had beaten the hell out of it with a rubber hose; the skin was perfect, but beneath it was full of bruises. That is not as much of a non-sequitur as it may seem at the end of this review. ** ½


Trailer.

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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