Monday, January 9, 2012

Horror Film Review

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2010):  Here's a question.  Why on earth would horror maestro Guillermo del Toro feel the need to remake a TV movie from 1973?  It's a stumper all right.  Here's a better question.  Why is del Toro's screenplay so boring and unscary?  How could the writer of The Devil's Backbone, Hellboy, and Pan's Labyrinth miss the mark so terribly?  Let's see if we can figure it out.

The opening title sequence brings to mind Hitchcock and gets the blood pumping.  Then we see a crazy artist in the huge basement of a house.  He lures the maid down there, breaks out her teeth with a hammer and chisel, then puts the teeth inside a ancient looking furnace where we hear whispery voices and see a endless tunnel leading striaght down into the earth.  It seems that something down there took his son and the teeth are some kind of offering to get him back.  Doesn't work.  Last shot is the man getting yanked into the furnace through its small door.  This all happened in the past, by the way.

In the present, Sally (Bailee Madison) is a little girl who's sent to live with her father Alex (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) in a grand, albeit spooky old mansion.  The kid's not happy about it either.  Alex and Kim are decorators restoring the place hoping to get on the cover of Architectural Digest and then sell it.  So they find the basement, which had been walled off, and Sally starts hearing something whispering to her.  She wants to be friends with them.  They want her down in their hole so they can harvest her teeth.  These critters are humanoid, less than a foot tall, and way ugly.  Well, of course no one believes her, that is until Kim learns about mansion's old owner (crazy dude) and sees that the last paintings he made were of way ugly little critters.  Kim also learns they were here before humans and their race made a deal with the Pope about a thousand years ago in which if they get a child sacrifice every ten years, they'll leave the rest of humanity alone.  (Bit of a reach, no?)

These little monsters hate the light so Kim arms Sally with a Polaroid instant camera while Dad Alex hosts a dinner party.  Yeah, I know.  Why the hell are they staying, especially when Sally's been attacked twice already?  And why is Kim letting Sally wander around the house alone?  My biggest pet peeve is that these creatures are smaller than a cat.  Why isn't anyone just punting them into the wall?  The lapses in logic are astounding.  And frustrating.  I kept thinking, come on, guys...get some road flares and halogen lights and take care of business.  Hell, get a golf club.  But no.  They all act so terrified of these ridiculous monsters that it's actually pretty silly.  In the end, someone dies and the survivors bolt.  The don't even torch the place, leaving the next owners to run into the same nightmare.  Ugh.  Dumb!


Acting:  I'm not sure, but I think Guy Pearce slept walk through the whole movie.  Katie Holmes, on the other hand, really made an effort and it showed.  Madison as Sally wasn't very likable but her performance was all right.
Story:  Unoriginal, uninspired, and uninteresting. 
Direction:  Sluggish would be too kind a word.  Otherwise, it's strictly by the numbers.
Production Values:  It's got a sufficiently creepy atmosphere, I will give it that.  And if they didn't film in an actual mansion, the sets are quite good.  Can't figure what else the $25 million budget could have gone to.  Katie Homes sure doesn't need the money...
Gore/FX:  Nothing worth mentioning.  The little fairy critters are CGI, of course, and it's obvious.
Scares:  None I could find.
The Ending:  Inane, insipid, incomprehensible. 

The Verdict:  Should you see Don't Be Afraid of the Dark?  I can't believe I'm saying this about a del Toro movie, but no, you shouldn't.  Go watch Pan's Labyrinth again.  Or even better, Hellboy.

My Rating:  2 out of 5 stars.

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