Since late last year, one trailer has managed to consistently scare me. That trailer was advertising a horror film called Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Well, after a few delays, Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark has finally been released and I’ve finally seen it. Unfortunately, the trailer is the only thing scariest thing about Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.
The film starts out as a classic haunted house story. Sally (well-played by Bailee Madison) is a young girl who is sent, by her neglectful mother, to live with her father. Sally’s father (Guy Pearce, who seems to be bored by the whole movie) is restoring an old mansion in Rhode Island with his girlfriend (Katie Holmes). In a plot development that will be familiar to anyone who has seen Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond, It turns out that the mansion was previously owned by a crazy painter who disappeared over a 100 years ago. Anyway, Sally isn’t all that happy with the situation to begin with and, once she starts to hear malevolent voices whispering threats at her, she’s even less happy with it. However, her father refuses to take Sally’s fears seriously. Why? Because, simply based on his actions in this film, Sally’s dad is an idiot as well as being the worst father ever! Seriously.
The main problem with Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is that it’s simply not scary. Director Nixey, making his film debut here, borrows a few effective images from other, better horror films but otherwise, he creates no sense of pace and no sense of tension. The owners of the voices are revealed fairly early on in the film and as soon as they show up, the film pretty much loses whatever atmosphere of dread that it may have built up. It’s as if nobody told Nixey that the unknown is always far scarier than obvious CGI.
It really doesn’t bother me that all of the characters continually do stupid things. We expect that. That’s just part of the horror genre. If the characters in a horror movie acted sensibly and just left the haunted house or didn’t wander off by themselves then there wouldn’t be any horror. What does bother me in this film is that there’s no consistency in the way the characters act or any sort of continuity for scene to scene. Sometimes, everybody in the house can hear Sally scream regardless of where they’re located and then other times, it appears that Sally could scream for hours without anyone noticing. Sometimes, Katie Holmes seems determined to save Sally from the house’s evil forces and then other times, she seems fairly indifferent to whether she survives or not. Horror films don’t require that characters act with any sort of logic but it does help if there’s at least a little consistency.
I mentioned Lucio Fulci earlier and I did that on purpose because, in many ways, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark reminded me of one of Fulci’s later, post-New York Ripper films. Like most of Fulci’s later films, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is ultimately a disappointment but occasionally, a little glimmer of talent shines through and manages to keep the film from being a total loss. In the case of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, most of those glimmers belong to Bailee Madison who is well-cast as Sally and who bring some much needed conviction to the film. Also, towards the end of the film, there’s a lengthy dinner party sequence in which Sally attempts to ward off the evil creatures while her unaware father attempts to schmooze with his guests (one of whom was played by Alan Dale, the same actor who played Charles Widmore on Lost). The dinner party sequence actually generates some tension (as well as some intentional laughs) and it hints at what the film could have been.