Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010) ☆☆☆(3/4) : A little girl is terrified in the big house

The House with dangerous secret has been one of the most common subjects in horror movies. Its interior is usually decorated with lots of horror clichѐs we have encountered for at least hundred times. Regardless of whether the house looks good or bad, there is always that familiar sinister feeling beneath the surface. If you don’t get it, the music or the cinematography will kindly tell you that this is indeed the bad place to live. However, for the movie has to scare us throughout the running time, the characters unwisely stay there and the darkness creeps on them day by day.

But I am not sniggering on this kind of horror movies. When I come across the good one like “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”, I enjoyed it with the satisfaction of being served well. It knows the mood is more important than the shock; the big house in the movie is shrouded in the ominous creepiness thanks to its gothic production design, dark cinematography, and nervous score. This build-up process is so good that the fatal secret revealed on the screen is relatively weak compared to that, though it is well-handled enough to scare us.

And the movie has a nice heroine to be terrorized by what she sees at this bad place. A young girl named Sally(Bailee Madison) is sent by her divorced mom to her father Alex(Guy  Pearce) and his girlfriend Kim(Katie Holmes), who work and live in the Blackwood manor in the Rhode Island countryside. Alex recently buys the house at a cheap price; he seems to have not thought about why this big house is not so expensive. He is renovating the Blackwood manor, and he thinks he will be able to sell it with a higher price later. Even though he is not aware of being in a horror movie, I would say he is too optimistic considering the current situation in US real estate business. But it’s only a movie, isn’t it?

He has been doing good jobs with his employees at this place. The house has a grand hall restored with mahogany panels, it has a big, old-fashioned library I’d love to own, and it also has a cozy bedroom with a big bed for Sally. Sally is not that enthusiastic about living here. She is a troubled kid struggling to adjust to her new environment, and she does not get along well with her father or Kim, a nice person who will probably be not bad as a stepmother but does not know what to do with her.

 Anyway, Sally is still a kid, and she curious about her new place to live. Naturally, she roams around the house, and then she discovers the basement that has been hidden for years. Even without the frightening opening sequence about what happened to the owner of the house at that place a long time ago, it is apparent to us that the basement is dangerous for her. There is a ‘furnace’, which seems to have been sealed for years, and she hears the small, insidious voices beckoning her to play with them.

What will happen next is pretty much like what you can expect from a dark fairy/horror tale. “Don’t Be Afraid of Dark” is the remake of the 1973 TV movie starring Kim Darby. The producer/co-writer Guillermo del Toro liked that movie, and he produces his own version which substitutes the adult heroine played by Darby with the young girl played by Madison. Considering that he made a great fantasy movie “Pan’s Labyrinth”(2006), which is also about a girl who encounters a dark hidden world and solely faces lots of danger inside that world, it is a not surprising change.

I have not watched the original version, but I can say the remake version is a nice horror movie with something horrible lurks behind the darkness. While maintaining the desperately suspenseful situation well, the director Troy Nixey punctuates the mood with several good scary scenes. Some of them is involved with sharp objects, and that made me wince several times(Although its heroine is a kid, this is a R-rated movie and it does not pull its violent punches). While watching the movie, I noted that this was the second time when I watched the character’s eye in the danger during last three months – the previous one was “The Eyes of Julia(2010), which was also produced by del Toro.

 Maybe you can guess it easily from that opening scene that the secret beneath the house is sort of freakish version of a certain fantasy creature familiar to some of you. These creatures are tiny but they are very vicious ones who has been craving for what they want from Sally. I think the movie shows them a little too much; in case of the creatures preying on the characters, less is more. As a matter of fact, their most striking moment in the movie is when their silhouettes are reflected on the bathroom curtain.

Poor Sally, who has enough troubles of her own, has to defend herself alone from these creatures alone in most of its running time, and nobody around her believes what she sees. Surrounded by her co-starring adult actors, Bailee Madison is as good as we can want from a little girl trapped in a bad place; we brace ourselves along with her while she is approaching to the danger over there. Jack Thompson is an old caretaker who knows a lot about the house, and Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes are adequate as the adult characters who do not realize what is really happening in their house. In case of Pierce’s character, he is more or less than a plot device for making his daughter stay in the house she wants to leave – but let’s say such a foolish negligence can happen before the disasters that could be prevented.

Though it has several flaws in the story(I wondered how they take care of the aftermath of several incidents in the movie, which cannot be easily ignored by the police in real world), “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” came to me as a nice surprise during these few remaining summer days. Every time we are frustrated by the endless shocks and bangs of the recent horror movies, there are always some horror movies which know the value of suspense before giving a really good shock to us – this is one of them, if not the best of them.

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