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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

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  4_Chicks_Small Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

The title sounds like a lie told to children to get them to go to sleep, doesn’t it?  As it turns out, it’s a great, big, fat lie.  There are plenty of things to be afraid of in the dark. That’s when “they” come out to get you.

Director Troy Nixey (Latchkey’s Lament) assembles all of the age-old elements:  large, ominous-looking mansion, a hidden basement, mysterious whispers, a tragic history, and someone who knows the backstory, conveniently around the premises in some kind of caretaker role.  Add to this a modern day dysfunctional family including a sullen, resentful child, and you have the ingredients for a chillingly effective tale.

Alex Hearst (Guy Pearce) is renovating a huge old estate in Rhode Island (although the actual film was shot in Australia) along with girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes).  When Alex’s daughter Sally (Bailee Madison) comes to live with them, the young girl thinks it’s just for a visit and becomes angry and withdrawn when she finds out it’s permanent.

So much for bonding with Kim.  A pouting, miserable Sally explores the enormous grounds of the estate, discovering a hidden basement and attracting the stern warnings of Harris (Jack Thompson) the caretaker.

Wouldn’t you know, he’s the guy with information about the history and legend of the house, including former inhabitant Blackwood (Garry McDonald) whose young son, legend has it, was stolen by the voracious spirits that dwell down below – down below the house that is.  A metal grate is of special interest; that’s where Sally hears her name called by some new “friends.”

Naturally Sally finds out about the malevolent little beings behind the basement grate well before the adults and they don’t believe her.  Alex remains oblivious to any impending danger as he readies the huge house for an Architectural Digest shoot.  Kim does the research, aided by cryptic library references from a ravaged Harris.   Tried and true formula alert: The one with the information always winds up a target himself.

Meanwhile, nasty, hurtful things keep happening in the absence of light, enhanced by the shadows and usually only half-seen.  Vicious and hungry, they lure the living toward a pit which appears like a large esophagus that yearns to swallow.  It is not a picky eater, but naturally prefers children.  Sally is the target, and any adult who tries to save her is an obstacle to be destroyed.

Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes are only adequate as the adults in Sally’s life, caring for her with different levels of interest.  Pearce walks through his role suffering a bad wig and the character’s dearth of common sense.  Holmes seems stuck on serious, with a difficulty for showing off a range of emotion.

Bailee Madison does a better than average job of parceling the angst of her situation out to the viewer.  Garry McDonald has one short, effective scene that will make you want to visit a dentist.

With his feature-length directorial debut, Troy Nixey summons the dark and foreboding atmosphere inside and outside of the home with recognizable, almost cliché earmarks of the horror genre.  There are thunderstorms, animated toys, and destructive mayhem (wrongly blamed on the victim).  Thrown in are some unusual, outdated touches like the use of a tripwire and an archaic Polaroid camera.

The script was written by Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) based on the made for TV movie of the same name that he says terrified him as a child.  Matthew Robbins (Dragonslayer) co-wrote and credit is also given to Nigel McKeand, the writer of the original 1973 screenplay which starred Kim Darby as the prey.  No one believed her either.

What you won’t believe is that there’s nothing to be afraid of when the lights go out.

Four Stars

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