Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)

I’d only paid marginal attention to this (sorta) haunted house flick when it popped onto the scene, due to the involvement of the (usually) great Guillermo Del Toro and Guy Pearce, who I always manage to find fascinating as an actor. As a story, this flick boils down to Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes (taking a break from Scientology incubator duties) as a couple who are intent on renovating a huge, old mansion somewhere in the (I suspect) Eastern States, for the benefit of a magazine cover. Along the way, Pearces sullen daughter is dumped on them (from the unseen ex wife) and, in short order proceeds to fire up a progressively malicious ‘entity’ on the property that’s intent on tormenting her until it claims it’s prize. Get this…the prize is her friggin teeth! I shook my head sadly when that little detail became apparent. The kids teeth? Really? Apparently so. In order to properly go over this movie, I’ve got to be ‘That Guy’…and head into SPOILER territory. So here goes. The ‘entity’ is a swarm of small, rodent-like fairy folk that shun the light (when it suits the plot) and speak in hushed, clearly evil tones (lots of drawn out ‘S’s). They’re basically little, furry assholes who crave the succulent taste of little kids teeth (haha!) and will set about tormenting whoever gets near in the most round-about ways possible. As a ‘haunting’ story, this one is pretty damn tepid. There was exactly ONE spot that actually creeped me out and it involved nothing more than a kids drawing (c’mon, those can be eerie shit!). Aside from that, the scares where pretty ‘meh’. On the acting front, Guy Pearce managed to inject a character who is essentially a selfish, materialistic and neglectful douchebag with something resembling charisma (as is Pearces ‘way’). Katie Holmes was…well…Katie Holmes. And these days…that ain’t sayin much. Any acting ability she MAY have once possessed has clearly been knocked out of her by that collection of ‘soul cluster’ worshipping alien wannabes that she, by default, is married to. The main character of the flick, the ‘pursued’ daughter (Bailee Madison) was a ‘mixed bag’ for me. On one hand, the were times when I was quite impressed with some of her uncannily adult mannerisms but on the other, there were numerous times when her moody ‘I’m angry at Daddy’ act grated on my nerves. The little monsters themselves actually would’ve worked better (with a couple tweaks) as the Rats of NIMH, should the terrific The Secret of NIMH (1982) ever find itself on the receiving end of a live-action remake. This weak flick boasts numerous, unexplored opportunities for scary, exciting or gory elements. It has an on-screen body count of exactly 0. No bullshit. NO ONE DIES! Sure, people get hurt…but its nothing shocking (except for one nasty leg break). There’s a part in the flick where Pearces Alex character is hosting an upscale dinner party while the little girl runs around the room obnoxiously snapping Polaroid(?!) shots of the mischevious beasts as they threaten to emerge. I was just waiting (hoping) for the scene to degenerate into a bloody free-for-all (ala Pirahna 3D) as the gremlin-thingos turn their wrath on the ‘well-to-do’ guests. Did I get it? Nope. Wasted opportunity…and, as already mentioned, there are a few of THOSE in this. And the end was lame…not even making sense in the scope of the story. Overall, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark pales in comparison to the visceral (and friggin scary!) wollop of something like The Lady in Black (2012). Seriously, skip THIS one and move straight on to THAT one.

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