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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

September 5, 2011


Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

 By John Leavengood

MY CALL:  This was not so scary, but entertaining.  It felt like it should have been a 30-minute short in an episodic movie composed of three eerie del Toro-visualized tales.  The concept and story were great, just…stretched too thin.  [I’ll give it a “B”]  IF YOU LIKE THIS, WATCH:  The Hellboy movies and Pan’s Labyrinth showcase del Toro’s creature innovations and unique take on mythology in appropriate doses.  Also, check out the original from 1973.


            This is the story of a child from a sundered family seeking acceptance in an ancient, perhaps cursed, home whose impish inhabitants want to be her friends.  Guillermo del Toro did some great work with this movie.  The creatures were spooky, diminutive and off-putting works of CGI art.  The star victem was perfect as a naïve, displaced child.  Even Katie Holmes did a good job (and I hate her, so that’s hard for me to say).  Yet somehow del Toro’s take on the movie (a remake of a 1973 TV-movie sensation) was just missing something.

            I was quite taken by the beguilingly creepy whispers of his evil shadow fairies.  I loved the set design and lighting effects.  I really enjoyed the attention to the mythology of his wee darklings.  But most of this was delivered to me in the first 15-30 minutes of the movie.  However enamoring this all was, I found myself waiting for something different to happen as the movie continued.  But all I found was more of the same, excepting that every creature encounter became more intense and revealed more of these evil lawn gnomes’ intentions.  That, and for some reason their vulnerability to light seemed to change conveniently from one encounter to the next.

            I was entertained by this not-so-jumpy scare-film.  Anytime del Toro gets to share his ideas with creature effects teams it seems to work out great (Hellboy, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, Pan’s Labyrinth).  What was different about this film?  It relied on a single creature concept for 90 minutes.  Hellboy divided its attention between the demon-beast Samaal, the clockwork-assassin Cronin, Rasputin and the tentacular monster he becomes, and the star creature-characters and their nature and origins.  Pan’s Labyrinth has a funky mantis-fairy, the faun, and one other monster which come up in different parts of the movie as if they are three stories.  Hellboy 2 was a cornucopia of ideas (one of which was linked to del Toro’s childhood fear of dentists and tooth fairies like this movie).  All enchanted us with ideas linked to mythologies and dark origin stories in brevity.

            I think del Toro needs to take on a project that’s a more serious take on episodics like Creepshow, Trick or Treat, or Tales from the Darkside.  These movies thrive on nifty single-serving story ideas, which seem to overflow from del Toro’s beautifully twisted mind.

            (Here’s the trailer from our August preview.)

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