Friday, August 26, 2011

REVIEW: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Director: Troy Nixey
Starring: Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison, Katie Holmes

Guillermo Del Toro comes back with another sentimental, elegant ghost tale, this time a fair bit more horror-oriented than the fantasy of Pan's Labyrinth and the over-reaching sorrow of The Orphanage. This movie has a lot in common with those, and it seems Del Toro has found his niche - ghost stories with a lot of ambiance, a historical bent and lots of countryside scenery and big, spacious old mansions. It’s a good setting and creates a very thick atmosphere that is vital to the movie.

The story revolves around a family living in a big, old mansion that has a dark secret. The father (Guy Pearce) vies to get his house on the cover of a big magazine, while the daughter Sally (Bailee Madison) explores the house and finds some rather unsettling things, like voices that talk to her from an old furnace. It’s a pretty stock story, but it’s told with some real presence and drama, and so I found it more entertaining than I would have under less artful hands. Del Toro didn’t direct this, but he did write the screenplay, and it’s fascinating how much this feels like other Del Toro-involved movies like Pan’s Labyrinth and the Orphanage, which I mentioned earlier. He has a really set-in-stone style that I find very cool, and it shines through in everything he sticks his fingers into. Director Troy Nixey is a newcomer and does an admirable job, with a good sense of pacing that escalates as the movie goes on and doesn’t feel forced or rushed. It’s nothing revolutionary but it’s solid.

The acting is pretty good. Pearce's character is straight up rude; a cliche "disbelieving parent" type found often in these movies, and Katie Holmes is a pretty stock girlfriend character, but both are played well and I never had a problem believing them. Bailee Madison does a pretty solid job at playing a scared little girl, and as she had to carry the film, this was no easy task - she performs admirably. The lighting and colors are masterfully nightmareish, appearing soft and subtle at first but turning horrifying as the film reveals its creepy, slithering tendrils and the tension explodes. I wasn't too impressed with this in the beginning, but the old Del Toro magic won me over and I found myself drawn into his musty, archaic setting and the unsettling story. More points would have been awarded for monsters that were more terrifying, though...