As I grow older, I am far less tolerant of fools than in my youth. Sadly, the fools in “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” are the father of a troubled girl and the father’s girlfriend, both of whom ignore the girl’s problems. It took a lot of patience on my part to not scream at the characters, “You’re idiots.” Mostly, I sat and laughed at the lame action on the big screen.
The film starts off on a promising note. Producer and co-writer Guillermo del Toro and director Troy Nixey create a lot of creepy atmosphere in their story of a couple (Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes) and a young girl menaced by things that go bump and screech in the dark inside the gothic mansion the couple is restoring.
The film is a remake of the 1973 television movie that starred Kim Darby and Jim Hutton. This update by del Toro and co-writer Matthew Robbins’ has architect Alex (Pearce) and girlfriend and collaborator Kim (Holmes) restoring Blackwood Manor and, with their funds nearly exhausted, desperate to land the home on the cover of a glossy magazine.
Enter Alex’s daughter, Sally (Bailee Madison), who’s been banished by her mother to stay with her dad. Sally’s already moody and creeped out by being forced to live with her father and his girlfriend, to whom Sally does not take to immediately.
To add to her discomfort, Sally starts to hear voices coming from creatures in the basement whose hidden agenda is to claim her as one of their own.
Naturally, the adults don’t believe Sally’s tale of the tiny and menacing creatures that are scaring the living daylights out of her and wreaking havoc on the house. The older folks would just as soon attribute ripped clothing and other damages to Sally’s troubled behavior.
My frustration deepened once the adults realized Sally was telling the truth and – get this – still left her alone in her room in the dark on more than one occasion.
The tension del Toro and Nixey create promises much more than it delivers. Pearce and Holmes glide through their performances like apparitions – You see they’re there but there’s little substance to either one.
Little Bailee Madison, however, delivers. Yes, she can scream and shout like any youngster, but she’s also believably sympathetic as the cast-off daughter, as well as the fear-stricken object of the creature’s desires.
Sure, you can see “Don’t Be Afraid,” but wait for a matinee or $1 Red Box rental.
The FilmDistrict release is rated R for violence and terror. Running time: 100 minutes.