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Capone says DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is an impressive work, even when it's not being scary!!!

Published at: Aug. 26, 2011, 5:02 p.m. CST

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

Is it possible that a movie designed to scare the bejeezus out if you can still be a quality work even without that many scares? I wouldn't have thought so before seeing the Guillermo del Toro produced and co-written (with Matthew Robbins) DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, a re-working of the 1973 made-for-TV movie that was broadcast in something of a hey-day for horror films on television. The production design is magnificent, the acting is flawless, and the rendering of the tiny monsters that terrorize little Sally (a phenomenal Bailee Madison) because they want to eat her teeth (and probably her soul while they're at it). And while are enough creep-filled moments to keep things fun, I only remember being truly scared a couple of times, but that didn't make me like the film any less because there's still a wonderful story and direction by newcomer Troy Nixey.

DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK opens with an absolutely killer sequence set many years in the past where a man lures a maid into his basement, ties her up, and knocks out her teeth as a kind of gift to unseen evil demons. But they are not pleased since they specifically told him they needed children's teeth, and his punishment is pretty grotesque. Skip ahead to the present day when Sally arrives in the house, recently purchased by her architect father Alex (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend, Kim (Katie Holmes). We find out that Sally has been living with her mother, who for whatever reason no longer wants her around, and this has clearly taken its toll on Sally's self-esteem. Kim is going out of her way to bond with Sally, but it's a losing battle. Alex is focused on his career and fixing up the house in time to show it off for a possible profile in an architecture magazine.

So Sally has this Gothic adventureland all to herself, and as she explores, she uncovers signs that there may be a dark presence buried deep beneath the property, so naturally, she does what she can to unleash it. It goes without saying that everything Sally hears and sees is doubted by her elders, and everything destructive that happens in the house is blamed on the girl and not her new, ghastly little friends. Director Nixey does a great job building the suspense at a pace that doesn't take too long, but doesn't feel rushed either. I like the way he hides the creatures or shows them only in glimpses of them at exactly the right moments.

Production designer Roger Ford does an astonishing job of creating this perfect home for exploring, and if I were a little kid, there's no way I could resist the temptation to open every door and walk up and down every set of ornate stairs. At some point in the film's final act, things go from being scary to be dangerous, and Madison does such a terrifically convincing job of turning from scared little girl (whose curiosity seems to trump even the most terrifying moments) to fighter against a force that is hell bent on killing her family.

I think it's fair to say that while my anxiety levels were certainly elevated watching DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, I don't remember being especially spooked. Perhaps that's because this film feels more sophisticated in its approach to horror (as compared to something like the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies or INSIDIOUS, all of which I truly enjoyed), but that certainly doesn't across as arty or anything but pure entertainment. Tension and suspense are powerful tools, just as much as making us jump in our seats is. Push your expectations aside, and just allow the film to be what it is. I think you'll appreciate and enjoy it so much more doing so.

-- Capone
capone@aintitcool.com
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Readers Talkback

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  • It’s not rocket science.

  • Aug. 26, 2011, 5:09 p.m. CST

    Strange Review...

    by Pawprint

    Very short - almost apologetic in tone...

  • Aug. 26, 2011, 5:11 p.m. CST

    Children's teeth are going to fall out anyway...

    by shatnerd

    She'll still have her permanent teeth to grow in later. Let the little guys have their fun!

  • Aug. 26, 2011, 6:13 p.m. CST

    This...is starting to sound...

    by 3774

    ...like an apologist's plea rather than a ringing endorsement. Damn.

  • Aug. 26, 2011, 6:49 p.m. CST

    Thanks for the laugh, franks_television.

    by The Reluctant Austinite

    I agree. Did they not circle the ad for "children's teeth" in the Sears and Roebuck Christmas Catalog? It's like when I asked for a puppy and I got a mangy cat.

  • Aug. 26, 2011, 7:08 p.m. CST

    Proofread

    by Saltoner

    You may want to have someone proofread your stuff before posting it. This is riddled with errors and comes across as a 12 year old movie critic blog that no one cares about. Just saying...

  • Aug. 26, 2011, 7:59 p.m. CST

    Gotta Agree with Paw Print & Pink_Apocalypse

    by MakNeil

    because the review comes off way too apologetic. We're grown-ups (most of us anyway). Let us know what you think about the film because I want to see it regardless of what's written here, to be honest.

  • Aug. 26, 2011, 9:49 p.m. CST

    I can dig.

    by blackwood

    Sure. A horror film doesn't have to scare you to be a horror film. Sometimes it's about a situation, a place, monsters -- horror is as much a milieu as it is a reaction. CORALINE is horror. It's not scary, and it's fantastic. But, importantly, fear is subjective. So any time someone is reviewing a horror movie and says they were or weren't scared, you have to just write that off. It doesn't mean anything to you; you have your own deal with 'scared'. I might get to see this on Sunday. August through November is my favourite time for horror films. Something about the dying of everything makes it a ghosty time. Also, Ebert gave it 3.5/4. Ebert doesn't truck with bad horror.

  • Aug. 26, 2011, 10:11 p.m. CST

    It's good.

    by redmule

    I saw it last night and I recommend.

  • Aug. 26, 2011, 10:11 p.m. CST

    Just got back from the theater. It kinda sucked.

    by Motherfucker Jones

  • Aug. 26, 2011, 10:13 p.m. CST

    And no acting by Katie Holmes will be anything close to "flawless" ever

    by Motherfucker Jones

  • Aug. 26, 2011, 10:16 p.m. CST

    and there nothing "R rated" about it

    by Motherfucker Jones

  • Aug. 26, 2011, 10:17 p.m. CST

    Mediocre

    by Motherfucker Jones

  • Aug. 26, 2011, 10:17 p.m. CST

    Fright Night was a jewel

    by Motherfucker Jones

  • Aug. 26, 2011, 10:21 p.m. CST

    FRIGHT NIGHT was as uninspired as a movie can be..

    by blackwood

    So if that's your metric for 'jewel', mfj, I'll thank you for not being an authority on anything.

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 1:46 a.m. CST

    Fright Night wasn't even cubic zirconium

    by Mel

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 2:55 a.m. CST

    Screened just gave it a poor review...

    by Lee

    ...and it seems that's the general opinion across the board. Think it's currently rotten on RT. Then again, these are all other people's opinions. If you were looking forward to it, don't let that dissuade you. There might still be something to enjoy.

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 4:37 a.m. CST

    Capone also said TF3 was impressive work.

    by ganymede3010

    Sorry Capone but your reviews can't be trusted.

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 4:46 a.m. CST

    Film had promise

    by ranma627

    The film built itself up phenomenally in its first 45 minutes. Bailee Madison carries the film but unfortunately, it just falls completely apart and drags on for too long. I become too restless by the film's end.

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 7:19 a.m. CST

    Seriously Y go 2 the movies anymore?

    by BrooklynBred

    Pretty much every movie I wanted to see got a mediocre review. This, Cap'n A, The Transformers (which I saw and was fairly impressed) I'd rather wait to see them on my couch. In fact my 62 inch 3d flat screen looks way more impressive than the screen at the movies.

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 10:13 a.m. CST

    @brooklynbred

    by Koyaanisqatsi

    Fuck off. There is no way your fucking flatscreen can ever compare to a cinema presentation. It is not physically possible. Fucking amateur.

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 1:37 p.m. CST

    All I could think about

    by kolchak

    was how much I'd rather be watching Kim Darby and Jim Hutton. This was a pale imitation.

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 3:14 p.m. CST

    Just saw it (spoilers)

    by I am not a number

    It was ok, but not terribly scary. I get that the movie requires the adults not to believe the girl until the end, but there are numerous instances where they have the evidence but nobody does anything with it. This is the sort of bad writing that takes me out of the movie, and drives me up the wall. The most egregious bit is when the girl crushes one of the creatures with the bookcase, but doesn't think to have anyone look at its squished body (or the resulting blood, so don't give me any "the monsters just ran of with the body" stuff). Plus she keeps dropping the damn polaroids on the floor, or - in the case of the dinner scene - placing the pic where the monster can easily grab it. (Do people even have Polaroid cameras nowadays? Then again, a digital camera would have made things too easy, right?). Overall I was entertained, but those moments really grate.

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 3:41 p.m. CST

    spoilers

    by Motherfucker Jones

    Its a tooth fairy movie

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 3:43 p.m. CST

    in fact, Final Destination 5 in 3D was money better spent

    by Motherfucker Jones

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 3:45 p.m. CST

    shouldve been a netflix job, probably would've put me to sleep at home though

    by Motherfucker Jones

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 4:50 p.m. CST

    Was the house made of churches?

    by AsimovLives

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 7:31 p.m. CST

    Well made, great girl but a comedy drama

    by the_shitweasel_with_a_quizzical_brow

    Good fun but a Fisher Price 'My First Horror Movie'

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 7:36 p.m. CST

    @ i am not a number: (major spoilers)

    by Destry

    did you really get that far before you got annoyed? how 'bout the caretaker being hauled out in an ambulance with several slices and stab wounds...and the father saying, "oh, he had an accident"? i thought the movie was beyond insulting...which might've been okay, had it been even minorly scary. (in fact, capone, you're dead on: leave your expectations at the door...if your expectations are a.) to be scared, or b.) to be treated like an intelligent person.) crapola.

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 8:40 p.m. CST

    The original scared the piss out of me as a kid...

    by Joaquin_Ondamoon

    ...back when ABC had the 'movie of the week', and some truly decent horror flicks. Those fucking onion-headed guys were creepy! 'Sssssaaallly!' Can't imagine watching this version at all.

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 8:43 p.m. CST

    Remember 'Picture Mommy Dead'?

    by Joaquin_Ondamoon

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 8:48 p.m. CST

    Remember 'Picture Mommy Dead?'

    by Joaquin_Ondamoon

    About a little girl whose Mom (Zsa Zsa Gabor)dies in a fire and they send her to a mental institution? It had that fucked up song: 'The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out..' Creepy shit kept me up at night for weeks. Probably campy as hell now. You really can't go home again....

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 9:50 p.m. CST

    @ destry (spoilers)

    by I am not a number

    Now, now. It is perfectly plausible that the guy managed to simultaneously cut himself with an exacto knife, stab himself in the leg with a screwdriver, and stab himself in the shoulder/neck area with scissors by accident. Happens to me all the time. Seriously though, that did bug me, just not as much as the examples I gave. And that reminds me of the other cliche that drives me crazy: the guy who knows what is going on but (1) tells nobody about it until it is too late--for no good reason, and (2) uses the most cryptic, drawn out way to tell them what is going on, instead of just coming out and saying it (eg: sending Katie Holmes to the library, rather than just saying "there are tooth-eating monsters in the basement!")

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 11:06 p.m. CST

    Capone is outta his mind

    by Gil Brooks

    They show the creatures too early and way too much. There's no tension in this film because of it. Don't be afraid to be disappointed, I say.

  • Aug. 27, 2011, 11:57 p.m. CST

    No backstory!

    by Cinemajerk

    Don't get me wrong, I WILL see this movie. Huge Guillermo fan, and like him, i was about 7 when i first saw the original on tv, and it scared the crap out of me. What i liked about the original is that there was no backstory to the creatures. They just wanted to drag poor Sally down into their world. Thats it. So all this backstory talk about how the creatures in the remake are really tooth fairies kind bothers me. I know how Guillermo likes his mythology....but i think the less said or explained about the creatures the better. Leave it up to the viewers imagination to create their own backstory. After all, isnt that what nightmares are made of? The unknown? Things that go bump in the night? Dark shadows and spooky sounds playing with your mind? If the filmmakers create a backstory for you, it kind of takes the fun out of it i think. But hey...like i said, I will see this movie to support the Del Torro. If enough people see this, perhaps some studio will step up and fund his Mountains of Madness dream project. :-)

  • Aug. 28, 2011, 2:18 p.m. CST

    Wow, I can't believe what some of you are saying

    by the Green Gargantua

    I guess if you are into Hostel and Saw type crap this may not be for you. I thought it was fucking great.

  • Aug. 28, 2011, 2:54 p.m. CST

    Here's the problem:

    by kolchak

    The original was about Sally trying to convince her husband that she's seeing these things, but you're never really sure if she's not just insane. This one decided to make Sally a little girl and move her from room to room so the lights could be turned off and creatures could come after her. Rinse and repeat 8 times. That's the remake. None of the character development. None of those drawn out, creepy dialogue sequences.

  • The same "is she crazy ?" dilemma works in the new one. I love the original,and I love the new one. character development and creepy dialogue sequences are practically non-existant in the original..

  • Aug. 28, 2011, 7:09 p.m. CST

    Movies where the parents REFUSE to believe their own kids.

    by GibsonUSA Returns

    Thoughts (SPOILERS!!!!!!!!): <BR><BR> 1. My dad used to say that when he was growing up, the movies most annoying to him were the ones where parents absolutely refuse to believe their own kids even in the face of indisputable evidence. The parents either refuse to look, or just blow off their own kids. <BR> My dad is now retired, and yet they are STILL making movies like this. <BR> How about making a movie where the parents believe their kid IMMEDIATELY, and react to protect the kid IMMEDIATELY? Is that out of the question? <BR><BR> 2. Not only to the parents in this movie initally refuse to believe or take responsive action when the little girl says that something is trying to HARM her, they come across as being dumb as bricks. The old guy is stabbed, and all this weird shit happens, and they are like "whatever" and proceed with having a party. Why not take precautionary measures? This family apparently has money. Take the little girl to a hotel - safe and sound away from the house - is that out of the question? When the little gremlins cut the electricity towards the end of the movie...Katie Holmes walks around slowly for no reason. Grab the girl and get outta the house you idiot!! Also, didn't they notice the smashed gremlin by the bookshelf? The little girls says the gremlins hate light....why not bring in bright lights like crazy?? Why are things still dim throughout the movie? <BR><BR> 3. Why are the gremlins even a threat? They are these little assholes that rely on stabbing you with knives and forks and shit. You can smash them even with a plastic camera. How are these little things a threat? Stomp the shit outta them. Take a flamethrower and torch the hit outta that little cave. The fact that these little munchkins can take down so many humans is ridiculous.

  • Aug. 28, 2011, 10:53 p.m. CST

    green gargantua

    by kolchak

    So did Mr. Harris just share in Sally's adderall delusions when he was fucking attacked and hospitalized? No. Doesn't work. At all.

  • Aug. 29, 2011, 2:31 a.m. CST

    I am only arguing that it was suggested no more than it was in the original.

    by the Green Gargantua

    Kim gets dragged down end of story.

  • Aug. 29, 2011, 5:42 a.m. CST

    So in a word it's a failure as horror

    by tomimt

    but works as some sort of a fantasy fairytale?

  • Aug. 29, 2011, 9:44 a.m. CST

    Was Capone stoned when watching this?

    by riskebiz

    What a godawful movie this was. Made about zero sense and wasn't scary at all. Guy Pearce certainly looked like he was collecting a paycheck. And this movie he will do, but turns down any and all comic book villain roles? Weird. This movie was a failure on every level.

  • Aug. 29, 2011, 9:46 a.m. CST

    Don't Be Afraid To Wait For It On Cable

    by riskebiz

    ...that should have been the name of this movie.