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'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark'

Staff Report • Aug 25, 2011 at 4:38 AM

"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is a sadistic and vile film that tries to pass off the emotional and physical torture of a young girl as entertainment.

Putting children in peril in horror films is one of the easiest way to engage an audience — but there is a line between the entertainment value of seeing someone in danger and the sick depiction of abuse.

This film obliterates that line.

"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" has been given an upgrade by screenwriters Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins. They took the screenplay of the original 1973 TV movie and switched the focus from gremlin-like creatures attacking an adult woman (Kim Darby) to the assault on Sally, a 10-year-old (Bailee Madison) who already seems to suffer the psychological effects of a broken home when the movie opens.

Sally's shipped off to live with her father, Alex (Guy Pearce), and his girlfriend, Kim (Katie Holmes), who are restoring a creepy New England mansion. Dad's so wrapped up in his work he doesn't seem to mind his daughter pops narcotics like they were coming out of a PEZ dispenser.

The discovery of a long-concealed basement releases a hoard of tiny creatures on which the Tooth Fairy was based. What follows is an unending series of attacks on the child, bound together by a script with more holes than a Swiss cheese factory.

Forget logic. No one seems to care that a handyman gets attacked by the creatures and his 50 cuts are called an accident; or that Sally is given a Polaroid camera as a means of protecting herself. Who even uses a Polaroid these days? (Maybe more people would if they had this camera — it comes with endless film and flashbulbs.)

Even the most dim-bulb of a parent would consider getting the child out of the house the 11th or 50th time Sally expresses such stark terror at being there — even if all of this is in her mind, the girl needs help.

Instead we get scene after scene of a child screaming for help. It's not scary, just sick.

Troy Nixey offers a few "gotcha" moments but otherwise his direction lacks originality. That means the cliches — from strange handyman to stormy night — seem even more rehashed. The original "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is far better — at least it doesn't resort to the relentless abuse of a child to create scares.



Grade: F

Rated R for violence, terror. Stars Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Bailee Madison. Directed by Troy Nixey. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.


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