Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark premiered as the opening film of FrightFest 2011. And as the audience sat in the dark awaiting the eagerly anticipated movie, produced and co-written by Spanish horror auteur Guillermo del Toro, little did they know that soon they would fear the darkness around them nearly as much as the main character does.
A remake of a 1973 ABC made-for-television horror film of the same name, del Toro had loved and feared Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark as a child and spent years first talking about it, then tracking down the rights to it and finally waiting to make it. Holding on to the script he co-wrote with Matthew Robbins for 13 years, del Toro eventually got round to making the movie that had affected him so much as a boy, reviving the fears he had for a new generation and giving a new audience a reason to be afraid of the dark once again.
Opening in the 1800’s in the gothic home of Emerson Blackwood, an eccentric artist, it appears that the house is also a home to otherworldly creatures, creatures that live in the dark and feed on children’s teeth, creatures that have captured Blackwood’s son and in doing so have driven him mad.
Centuries later in the present day the house, having been left abandoned and unwanted for many years, is being restored by architect Alex (Guy Pearce) and his interior designing girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes).
The creatures have long remained silent, desperate for the sound and teeth of a child. So when Alex’s daughter Sally (Bailee Madison) arrives to stay after being sent by her mother they reawaken, desperate for her to free them so they can in turn capture her.
At first fascinated and obsessed by the tiny creatures who call out to her at night from their iron prison in the basement, once freed Sally soon starts to fear them finding the adults around her unable to believe in the very real danger she and everyone is in.
Crafted as a twisted fear filled fairy tale in the way only del Toro can do, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark mixes the myths of an ancient creature with the modern day troubles of broken homes and childhood trauma – much like Pan’s Labyrinth. This is blended together with an excellent script which builds brilliantly, increasing the tension within the fragile family and terror attacking it as it goes.
The set design looks stunning, giving us the gothic Blackwood mansion complete with creepy cellar and ornate mazelike magical garden, evoking a fairy story excellently, even down to Sally’s room with its oversized bed. This demonstrates well the visual flair of director Troy Nixey, who is also a comic book artist.
All of these elements place the audience in the mind of a child with those primal fears we all had when young, and sometimes still have, including ‘what lives under the bed’, ‘what creeps around in the basement’ and most of all ‘what lurks in the dark’.
What hides in all these places is del Toro’s terrorising tooth fairies, desperate to take children to their underground world and transform them into one of their own. Del Toro’s Hellboy 2 featured molar hungry eating machines, showing his obsession with this story even back then but these creatures are very different indeed.
Tiny in size, but filled full of pure evil, malice and anger and armed with household items (which they wield as weapons) the film keeps these creatures hidden until the last act. When we finally do see them they are brilliantly realised with excellent special effects.
With a great cast and a great story Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is definitely del Toro’s movie in its style, themes, look and its ability to take you back to revisit your childhood fears.
A modern day fairy tale with a fairly twisted take on the tooth fairy myth, this movie is a must see.