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!





Final Destination 5: A Study In Redundancy

15 08 2011

Wasn’t the last Final Destination movie called The FINAL Destination? Yes, yes it was. Yet, money and box office “cha-chings” are the immortal waters of the Fountain of Youth to film franchises, so here we are, yet again, with a 5th episode. It’s like freakin’ Cher and her “farewell” tours…you know there’s gonna be another one. So, here’s the breakdown:

Boy has vision of terrible accident (this time a bridge collapse). People die horrible deaths (cables, oil, boats, etc. are involved). Boy saves a group of people (insert list of archetypal horror film blood-n-guts fodder). Said “lucky” group of people start dying off in increasingly gory and “creative” ways, all in the order with which they died in the vision. Remaining survivors try to figure out how to stop Death’s relentless march – after all, he doesn’t like to be cheated (or so we’re told).

The Monkey: Fans of the franchise will be excited to see a return to basics; clever, edge-of-your-seat kills, dark humor and a familiar plot structure. And let’s be honest – the kills are what people are wanting to see when they pay for a ticket anyway. The kills in Final Destination 5 are definitely more creative than previous installments. Just when you think you have it figured out, Death takes you down a twisted path to a blood-soaked end you could have never guessed. Cringe-worthy for sure. After every kill, audience reaction went as follows: “Ooohhhhh! Hahaha! *Clap* *Whistle*.” We’re the YouTube generation and watching train-wrecks and wipe-outs has created an audience ever receptive to this kind of entertainment.

The opening sequence was impressive, especially considering the relatively conservative $47 million budget. There was also a pretty clever twist ending that had me nodding in appreciation. But the best part of Final Destination 5 was the 3D. It was gloriously cheesy and everything you’d expect from a B-horror film. From impaling rebar to flying body parts, there was no shortage of blood and guts flying at your face. Exploitation of the medium? Absolutely. Satisfying? You bet.

The Weasel: I have to imagine the script for this movie was like a MadLib. “Fill in the blanks with different ways for people to die!” No one goes to these movies for the witty dialogue or the ingenious plot; however, a little time and creativity would have been appreciated. If you’ve seen any of the others, you’ve seen this one. Aside from the moderately surprising ending, there was nothing about Final Destination 5 that contributed much to the franchise. Mediocre acting, a subpar script and an awkward effort at dark comedy stained this blood-fest an irrevocable shade of “blah.”

Will fans like this movie? Considering it’s a marked improvement on the last two installments, yes, I’m sure they will. Even fans of over-the-top horror/gore films will find something to enjoy. But anyone looking for a clever take on a tried and (sometimes) true story structure should just rent the first film and pretend it’s the 5th one.

1.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Was Final Destination 5 a successful addition to the franchise? Did the end surprise you (no spoilers in the comments please!)? Anyone want to take bets that Final Destination 6 involves a cruise ship? Share your thoughts in the comments!