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By Rebecca Gillie
The latest offering from the production stable of Guillermo del Toro, stars Katie Holmes and features the typical ingredients of an American haunted-house horror flick. Take a creepy little long-haired girl, a crumbling, Gothic pile and an ominous-sounding title. Add to that small creatures, voices in the night, and a psychologist called to analyse the distressed child, and you have the components of many a hackneyed thriller. The film – a remake of a 1970s American made-for-television film – plays on common childhood fears, as the audience discovers whether what terrified them as children has the same effect on them as adults. Co-writer del Toro has stamped his own mark on the original, adding a child to the cast of characters; the ‘70s version told the story of a couple in which the woman, rather than the child, is suspected to be losing her marbles.
However, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark disappointingly fails to frighten. Perhaps childhood terrors don’t hold the same sway over us once we’ve grown up – or perhaps the film contains too many stock elements of haunted-house horror to be truly terrifying. One has the impression of having seen it all before.
The film is disquieting in parts, with the shady caretaker and the meandering passages of the Rhode Island mansion contributing to the menacing atmosphere. The appearance of the animated, fanged creatures of the little girl’s imaginary world (if it really is imaginary) nonetheless dispels any remaining fear, and makes the flick more ridiculous than realistic. Don’t expect to leave the cinema with goose-bumps.
Whether the film is worth a watch depends on what other films are on offer at the time. Threaded through the film, the question of reality and imagination and the merging of the girl’s nightmarish fantasy world with the rational realm of the adults is of mild interest. The audience feels for the young protagonist as she attempts to persuade her father and his girlfriend she is not losing her mind. Once again, though, the narrative is not particularly original (despite featuring malevolent tooth fairies) and one is left with the distinct feeling of having seen it all before.
- Rebecca Loxton