Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: Less Horror and More Dark Fairy Tale

29 08 2011

A remake of the 1973 made-for-TV movie of the same name, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a Guillermo del Toro produced “horror” film starring Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce and  Bailee Madison. Here’s the breakdown:

When Sally (Madison) moves in with her architect father (Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Holmes), she unwittingly uncovers a centuries old secret and unleashes a living nightmare.

The Monkey: The tone of this movie was rock solid. From the set design to the music; from the cinematography to the script, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark thoroughly maintained its “creepiness” factor. The sprawling Victorian mansion became a character all its own, with its blood-red stained glass, creaking stairs, secret chambers, roaring fireplaces, labyrinthine gardens and classic fixtures. It was a haunted house from backyard to buttress.

Del Toro brought much of what made his critically-acclaimed Pan’s Labyrinth a success to this endeavor as well. A classic story, with genre tropes twisted just enough to feel refreshingly original and genuinely creepy. More of a “dark fairy tale” than a true horror film, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark played out its fantastical elements without apology and del Toro’s contributions continued to shine throughout, especially regarding the honesty of the storytelling (not to mention his almost infamous creature designs).

While the “Don’t go in there!” moments were myriad, it lent to the overall “We’ve seen this before but we don’t mind seeing it again” feeling that permeated the whole movie. Fairy tales are grounded on archetypes and familiar plots…so it becomes all about the embellishments. And there were many here. A truly blood-chilling opening sequence, creepy music-box music, grotesque drawings and even a homage-ish shower/bath scene, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark rests firmly on the bones of tried-and-true ghost stories, allowing the filmmakers room to get creative with the trappings.

The Weasel: Unfortunatley, the movie was not exactly marketed well. Touted as a true horror film, the movie was much more thriller, much more dark fairy tale. And while there were wonderful tastes of this (especially when the story began to focus on its own mythology), the fantastical elements seemed almost out of place, in that it kept the movie from becoming actually terrifying. The fantastic nature of the story should have been given more prominence.

The acting was neither here nor there; decent enough to support the story, without being distracting.

There was a significant portion of the movie dedicated to the family drama surrounding Sally’s estranged parents and Kim, the new girlfriend. This relationship was played up even more in the final moments of the film; however, the build-up was shoddy at best and unbelievable at worst. Tonally, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was never quite sure of itself, and the mismatched drama/horror/fantasy pieces were evidence of this.

In the end, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a big-budget camp-side ghost story, an extended episode of the Twilight Zone, a twisted fairy tale. A bit of mis-marketing and some tonal inconsitencies aside, don’t be afraid to give this movie a chance.

And on a side note: there was NO reason for this movie to be rated R. This was practically cable TV ready, with no gore, swearing, nudity…R for “Violence and Terror”? Please. The most ridiculous rating I’ve ever seen.

2.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Was Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark a decent remake? Did you find it more horror or fantasy? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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The Hurt Locker: A Heart-Pounding Adrenaline Rush

18 02 2010

It seems Avatar‘s biggest competition this Oscar season is The Hurt Locker. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (which everyone is keen to point out, is 1) a woman directing a gritty military drama, and 2) James Cameron’s ex-wife), The Hurt Locker is tied with Avatar for a total of 9 Oscar nominations, most notably for Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture. Here’s the breakdown:

An elite Army bomb squad in Iraq must put themselves in harm’s way every day, disarming bombs and hostile situations in an effort to keep civilians and military personnel safe.

The Monkey: Due in large part to its documentary-style directing, The Hurt Locker is one of the most tense, suspenseful, adrenaline-infused movies I’ve ever seen. There were several moments in the film that not only gets your heart racing, but afterward, you’ll realize you were even sweating! Without using cheap tricks, or cliche film gimmicks, The Hurt Locker delivers on suspense while maintaining its originality.

Jeremy Renner’s performance was definitely Oscar-worthy; in fact, I almost didn’t even believe he was an actor. His subtle and realistic performance of a hardened bomb sergeant added to the documentary-feel of the movie and it will be exciting to see how his career takes off after all the recent recognition.

The Weasel: The lack of plot in the film, while contributing to the realism and grit of the movie, kept me from fully engaging with the characters. It was more of a “life in the day of a bomb squad” than a movie about a bomb squad. It’s even hard to explain what the movie is about; it’s about a bomb squad in Iraq…and, um…they diffuse bombs. But what else? Sure, we get brief glimpses into the characters’ personal lives, some truly heart-felt moments (in particular a scene where Renner’s character showers completely clothed in his army gear as blood and dirt swirl down the drain and a scene where a fellow squad mate shares his desire to start a family), but without a clear story arc, the viewer is left floundering.

Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes appear in the film, but their roles are surprisingly small and short-lived. While not necessarily a negative comment about the film, it took me by surprise that such big-name actors were used so sparingly.

A masterfully created film that delivers original suspense, eliciting visceral reactions in the viewer. Definitely worthy of its Oscar success; however, I find it surprising that critics consider The Hurt Locker to be Avatar‘s #1 competitor. I guess we’ll wait and see what happens March 7th.

3.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Is The Hurt Locker Avatar‘s biggest competition at the Oscars? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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