Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark (2011)

**This review contains spoilers**

Early in the 19th century, Lord Emerson Blackwood (Garry McDonald) sets a trap for his maid one night. Blackwood, a reclusive man and painter, waits in the basement of his mansion in Providence County, Rhode Island, until the maid falls down the staircase, after stumbling over Blackwood’s trip wire. Blackwood uses a hammer and chisel to murder the maid by smashing out her teeth. With hopes of seeing his son again, Blackwood offers the maid’s teeth and some of his own teeth to small creatures, who live within the fireplace of Blackwood’s basement. But the creatures refuse to return Blackwood’s kidnapped son. Instead, the creatures pull Blackwood into the fireplace to take him as another prisoner.

Years later, Alex Hurst (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend, Kim (Katie Holmes) await the arrival of Alex’s young daughter, Sally Hurst (Bailee Madison) at the airport. With her parents divorced, Sally’s mother believes a change would help Sally, so Sally is sent to live with her father in Providence County. Sally, bitter and furious about having to move away from her mother, refuses to accept Kim as the new mother figure in her life. As Sally tries to adjust to her new life, Alex is more concerned with renovations on the new home: Lord Blackwood’s old mansion. Alex will do anything he can to impress Architectural Digest magazine, and a wealthy businessman named Mr. Jacoby (Alan Dale), but in the process, he ignores his daughter.

Desperate and lonely, Sally eventually finds the sealed basement, where Blackwood vanished. Here, she listens to the voices of the creatures, who trick her into becoming friends with them. Mr. Harris (Jack Thompson), an elderly worker, who’s helping with the repairs, has history with Blackwood Manor dating back to his grandfather, who also worked as a repairman on the mansion. Harris, knowing the dark history of the mansion, pleads with Alex to leave the basement alone, but Alex refuses, and breaks open the barricades blocking the entrance to the basement.

The creatures, still trapped in the sealed fireplace, use Sally’s desperation for companionship against her, and they convince Sally to open the fireplace and release them. The creatures stalk and torment Sally throughout the house, but Alex, believing his daughter is mentally ill, calls a psychiatrist to the house to evaluate Sally. The creatures leave a rare silver coin underneath Sally’s pillow, but in exchange for the coin, the creatures want Sally and her teeth. Kim believes in Sally’s fears, and after a wounded Mr. Harris (Harris was attacked by the creatures after trying to reseal the fireplace) instructs Kim to visit the local library for more information on Blackwood and the creatures, Kim urges Alex to leave the mansion.  Discovering their only true weakness, Sally uses light to fight the creatures, and Sally is forced to rely on light and  Kim to save her from an eternity of imprisonment in the dark depths of the fireplace.

Well, the most obvious change in the remake is Sally. She’s not a fully grown woman and a housewife. Sally is a small child, who’s lonely and struggling to adjust to her new life. For my money, Bailee Madison’s Sally is better than Kim Darby’s Sally. Sally comes off as this disrespectful brat at first, but Madison does a better job of showing the emotional heartache and desperation, as her pleas about the real existence of monsters are ignored. Adding the dynamic of the homesick and lonely child to the Sally character helps, but Madison still deserves all the credit for being able to pull it off. A few more layers are added to the Sally character, and Madison nailed each one. The disruptive brat, the lonely outcast, the fragile child, who’s begging for someone to understand her, and Sally uses her amateur drawings (including drawings of the creatures) to express herself. Madison was given a tougher challenge with 2011 Sally. She conquered that challenge, and that’s the main reason why she gets my pick for being better than Darby.

Jim Hutton’s Alex was a strict and domineering husband, but Guy Pearce’s Alex is more of a pompous and pretentious douchebag. Alan Dale’s Mr. Harris resembles Demarest’s Mr. Harris from the original (i.e. the paranoid old man, who tries to warn everyone of the dangers within the fireplace), and I don’t have any real complaints about Katie Holmes as a new addition. Remember, there’s no divorce, and Alex doesn’t have a girlfriend in the original. Holmes is harmless as Kim. The character is somewhat of a cliché, because Kim is the “new woman” in Sally’s life, and she refuses to accept her. Kim is torn between trying to please Sally, while helping Alex as the new authority figure/parent in Sally’s life. But Holmes deserves credit for a strong effort.

Of course, this film was released in 2011, so you have to expect CGI creatures. Others will complain, but I actually enjoy the CGI upgrades for the creatures. They have a more monstrous and intimidating look. Plus, I like the idea of giving the creatures a more thorough backstory. There’s a diabolical mystique surrounding the creatures, as ancient and sinister tooth fairies, who won’t take no for an answer.

You have to expect changes in any remake, but I give Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark 2011 credit for adding some new changes and paying homage to the original. A few examples of the winks to the original include the creatures using a trip wire to catch Sally, but instead, someone else (Kim) gets caught in the trap. That’s reminiscent of the creatures trying the same thing with Sally in the original, but they caught Mr. Perez instead. And the final moments of the remake resemble the ‘73 original (“we have all the time in the world”), with the exception of Sally and Alex returning to the mansion.

Guillermo del Toro (Del Toro loved the original as a kid) is a producer for this film, and he helped with the screenplay. You can see del Toro’s touch throughout this film, because the remake is full of visual splendor, with Sally’s carousel night light being a noticeable standout. Although, the landscape in the remake lacks a lot of the eerie spookiness in the original.

Like the original, the remake takes the slow burn approach towards the build to the big finale. Problem is, if you’ve seen the original, you won’t be able to feel the suspense and shock factor of the creatures revealing their big plan for Sally (“WE WANT YOU!”). So when Kim goes to the library to do some research on Blackwood and the mansion, and she finds out the big secret behind what the creatures want, there‘s a good chance you‘ll (for people who saw the original) have a facepalm type of reaction, because you already know what’s coming before Kim goes to the library. Then again, the remake’s foreshadowing for the creature’s plans are very obvious, so feeling the void of the intended shock factor probably won‘t matter either way.

Overall, I enjoy Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark as a modernized and polished remake of the ‘73 original. As I said before, you have to expect changes in a remake, and Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark managed to mix in some new material, while paying homage to the original in an attempt  to please fans (although  some will bitch no matter what). Oh, and the ending with Kim being yanked into the fireplace is one of the most cringeworthy moments you’ll see in any horror film. The way her legs and ankles snap in half, when the creatures slam her against the fireplace door…ouch.

Rating: 7/10

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