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By Brian Lafferty


August 26, 2011 (San Diego) – The trouble with Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark isn’t so much that it’s not scary but that it’s boring. It ranks right up there with the original Amityville Horror (1979) as one of the dullest haunted house movies I’ve seen.


Little Sally (Bailee Madison) moves in with her father (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend (Katie Holmes) into their new Rhode Island mansion. Her parents are divorced and she’d rather live with her mother in Los Angeles. A bunch of creatures pick up on this and want her to be her friend. These creatures live deep underground below the estate. They then try to snatch her for reasons never adequately explained.


The movie was produced and co-written by Guillermo Del Toro who ranks among the best in creating movie creatures. From the ghost in The Devil’s Backbone to the various monsters in Pan’s Labyrinth, he’s a master at his craft.


The creatures in this film are nowhere near the caliber that Del Toro’s capable of. When they’re finally revealed, they are small, cartoonish CGI gnome-sized furry monsters. They belong in a Harry Potter movie, not a horror film. The more they appear on screen, the more they border on parody.


The creature effects are cheap. The filmmakers spare nothing, however, in the production design and cinematography. Each set is large, expansive, and artfully and skillfully designed with an acute attention to detail. Even the staircases in the entryway are a work of art.


It’s easy to admire the handiwork until you realize that it’s a distraction. There is an unwritten rule when it comes to horror films: the more artistic the sets and cinematography, the less scary the film. Every shot in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is polished and slick. Instead of being scared, my eyes kept darting across the screen, taking in the look.


That shouldn’t happen with horror movies. Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were shot on extremely low budgets and it showed. That lack of sophistication, however, gave these films their visceral thrills. These thrills were prevalent even when there weren’t any gross-out effects, killings, or maimings.


The only thing that Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark has going for it is the mystery of these creatures. Who are they? What do they want with kids? What goes on underneath the house where they reside?


But at the end of the film, these questions are not effectively answered. In fact, I left the theater with more questions than answers. I’m all for that if the film earns the right to do so. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark doesn’t.


Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is now playing in local theaters.


A FilmDistrict Release. Director: Troy Nixey, Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins, based on the 1973 teleplay by Nigel McKeand. Original Music: Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders. Cinematography: Oliver Stapleton. Cast: Bailee Madison, Katie Homes, and Guy Pearce. 99 minutes. Rated R.


Brian Lafferty can be reached at brian@eastcountymagazine.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @BrianLaff.


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