WOW. I did NOT see that one coming.
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is a movie that’s been on my radar for a long time now, primarily due to the involvement of producer Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth). But I don’t think I ever had high expectations for it.
First off, it stars Katie Holmes. Meh. I knew that the “creature” of choice were “Imps” or “Gremlins”. O… K… It was being released at the ass end of August – not a good sign. So when the Rotten Tomatoes score settled on a 58 for this movie, I was totally prepared to go see it, come home, do my duty here, and be done with it.
But wow. I have to admit. I liked this movie A LOT!
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is a remake of a 1973 made for TV movie that I’ve never seen. So I had no attachments or preconceptions of any kind, really, going in. It didn’t take very long to get my attention, though. The movie opens with a sick little scene that had me wondering what this movie was rated. Turns out to be an R Rated movie! To hell with Hollywood and their PG13 BS! Sweet!
The plot centers around a young girl, Sally, who’s sent to live with her father and his new girlfriend. The two of them are finishing the restoration of an old Victorian mansion. They’re almost finished. Just a few more touches, a little extension on the bank loan, do well at the dinner party for Architectural Digest, and it’s on to the next level in both their careers.
But little Sally is an unhappy little girl. She’s already on medication for ADHD, and she’s dealing with depression over being “sent away” by her mother. Establishing her character this way does a couple of things for the movie. When she starts to hear voices it’s credible the adults wouldn’t believe her, and at the same time, the audience understands why she’d want to go to them.
The “Them” in question is a colony of demonic little “Imps”.
Locked away behind a furnace looking grate in a walled off basement, the imps have a hunger for the teeth of children. As such, they’re after little Sally. But first they have to trick her into letting them out. And, inquisitive and isolated as she is, let them out she does. Of course, it’s all set up in a way where they’re not revealed just yet. Where would the fun be in that?
No, this is an intelligent movie. A movie that knows how to build suspense and keep the viewer tense. So for just the right amount of runtime, we’re treated to scurrying and scuttling in the walls, and whispered little voices hissing things to Sally like, “Come play with us,” “We’re you’re friends,” and “Come down to the basement,” all in rapid fire from multiple little critters scattered around in the shadows and in the air vents.
It’s creepy. I loved it.
The truth is, I kept waiting for this movie to let me down, and it never did. I figured, yeah, this is really cool… but once they show the creatures, things’ll go downhill. Nope. The creatures were GREAT. Yeah, but once they all finally reveal themselves and the battle begins, it’ll be lame. Nope. It was cleverly done! I really liked it… plus it had a pretty ballsy little ending!
I don’t know how much I would say this movie scared me. I mean, it had some pretty tense moments and a couple of jump in your seat moments, but… The thing is, just because a movie is going to wind up in the horror section, it doesn’t mean it’s not a good movie if you don’t soil your drawers. This was a GOOD movie. Very solidly directed, great creature design, it told a well crafted story, and above all it created an atmosphere of tension and suspense that it never lets slip away. The little girl does a great job with her role, which is important, because she’s definitely the lead in the film.
But above all, the thing I enjoyed the most were the imps themselves.
I didn’t even know how burnt out I was until I saw this movie. Little kids possessed by demons or ghosts? There’s a paint by numbers kit for those movies now. Serial killers in slasher films? Yawn. Zombies? I love ’em, but my Zombie movie collection could fill a small bookshelf already. And when I see a vampire popping his fangs and making the “Rwaaahwr” sound? I’m probably cracking True Blood jokes in my head.
These things were original. Unique. It felt creative, like I was seeing something new. Not only is the CGI well done, the rules of engagement are completely new. How can these things threaten? Well, they set trip wires, use objects, hide and sneak, they overwhelm with numbers… I mean, the entire time, it just felt as though I was watching something NEW.
And that in and of itself is reason to recommend this movie.