Where’s Hell Boy When You Need Him?
I was inspired to watch today’s movie by … uh … it being on Netflix. That’s all it takes sometimes. I’ve done quite a few review requests lately and felt like I needed to do a little something for me. That doesn’t really explain why I decided to watch this movie though. I didn’t have any super strong need to see this movie, but it did pique my interest. I don’t know if it was the director that was attached … because it wasn’t directed by who I thought it was. He just presented it. Though I’ve not always been a fan of this guy’s movies, I am usually intrigued by his artistic direction. So I said, “What the hell? I’ll give it a go.” Then I sat down and watched Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, written by Matthew Robbins and Guillermo del Toro, directed by Troy Nixey, and starring Bailee Madison, Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Garry McDonald, Jack Thompson, Julia Blake, Nicholas Bell, Edwina Ritchard, and Alan Dale.
A long time ago in Providence County, Rhode Island, Emerson Blackwood (Garry McDonald) has lost his mind. You can assume this much based on the fact that he kills his housekeeper (Edwina Ritchard) with a hammer and chisel in order to offer her teeth to the tiny creatures that live in his stove. But it turns out he might not be that crazy. The tiny creatures have taken his son into the bottom of the fireplace and take Blackwood for trying to offer them adult teeth. In what is supposed to be the present day, people are using Polaroid cameras for some reason. They’re using them to take pictures of a young girl named Sally Hirst (Bailee Madison) who has been sent by her mother to live with her father Alex (Guy Pearce). The pictures are being taken by his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes). Sally gets right on top of being a little mopey bitch and shunning Kim’s attempts to get close to her. In the house, the tiny creatures awaken in the ash pit. Sally stumbles across a window that looks into the basement, causing Alex to find the basement door, hidden by a false wall, much to the chagrin of one of the workmen, Mr. Harris (Jack Thompson). Sally gets really interested in the ash pit, to the point of removing the bolts that held the fireplace door shut. Then shit starts going down.
I found this movie to be completely underwhelming. It’s an interesting enough premise for a horror movie, but they never land on the scares. I feel like it suffers from the same problem that most horror movies suffer from: that CG allows them to show their creatures. I know nothing of the original movie this movie was based on, but I know that the little creatures that pestered the people of the house were mildly creepy at first, but you saw them so many times throughout the movie that they completely lost their ability to scare and just wound up being a slight step up in freakiness than some really annoying rats. And without scares, it must rely on its story to be interesting, but it can’t really live up to it. It’s basically just a movie about ruining the idea of tooth fairies for any kids unfortunate enough to stumble across this movie, that hadn’t already had the idea of the tooth fairy ruined by The Rock or Larry the Cable Guy. Then there’s a pretty typical little kid being tormented by something supernatural, but no one believes her, as well as some stuff about the stepmother-type figure trying to win over the daughter that blames her for her parents’ problems. Nothing’s completely shocking and it mostly turns out exactly like you expect. But there were also a lot of things that bothered me. At one point, Alex says that Kim would be a terrible poker player because she’s “been ironing that shirt for hours.” Yeah, that’s a big tell, when you start ironing a shirt at a poker table. I understand that you were TRYING to say that she was doing a poor job masking her concern, but your statement did little to convey that. One of the bigger issues I took could be forgiven, but follows with something I can’t. I can get behind Alex and Kim being too stupid and curious to think there was probably a reason that the basement door was not only locked, but they put a wall up in front of it. Without that curiosity, there would be no movie. What I cannot condone is the douchebag groundskeeper, Mr. Harris, being so clearly aware of why it was sealed up and refusing to say anything. They probably wouldn’t have believed your tales of fairies that eat teeth living in the stove, but you could’ve tried. At least you were the first one punished for your silence. Then you have the next annoyingly stupid curiosity on the part of the little kid. When I was a kid of her age, there is no way I would open up a stove that was conspicuously tightly sealed because I heard creepy voices inside calling my name. I think I’d have the opposite reaction and would try to pour cement in there. The kid can’t be blamed completely, as she was only really able to loosen the bolts and the creatures were able to unscrew them from behind … somehow. I would really like to try to see how easy it is to unscrew bolts from the inside, because I get the feeling it’s nearly impossible after a certain point when you can’t grip them anymore. And, if the fairies had this ability, why did they not do it earlier? But the kid is also pretty stupid. When she’s given the teddy bear that says, “I love you,” she disregards it as stupid. Later, when the fairies are manipulating it and it’s still just saying, “I love you,” she asks it if it can talk. It could talk before, you daft git! The ending of the movie was also a bummer. At first, it was kind of sad what happened. Then, it was just stupid. I guess the nicest thing I could say about this movie is that it’s only an hour and nine minutes.
The look of the movie was fine enough, but I found myself being a bit disappointed. It’s mainly due to Guillermo del Toro’s involvement. I thought he was the director of the movie, so I expected, if nothing else, it would be a visually striking movie. I wouldn’t say I like his movies, but I like how they look. When this movie had none of that to it, I was bummed out. It’s a pretty basic looking movie. It’s thankfully not as dark as you might expect a movie about creatures that are injured by light to be. Well, technically, they acted more irritated by light. It’s not the kind of movie that’s overly graphic; I can only think of two occasions in the movie that are actually brutal. One was when Mr. Harris is attacked by the creatures with various tools, such as a utility knife and a screwdriver. The second was less bloody, but bothered me more. It was when someone’s leg gets pulled back really hard and snaps backwards. As someone who’s broken their leg before, it made me uncomfortable. There was also a point in the beginning when you could hear the scraping of the chisel Lord Blackwood had on the housekeeper’s teeth that made my skin crawl. Beyond that, you just see the creatures too much and they lose their effect. And their constant whispering irritated me fairly quickly. Imagine an entire movie about Harry Potter speaking in Parseltongue. Losing the effect of the creatures left them to try to go for cheap scares, like the drawn out scene of the girl looking under the sheets, but I’ve seen that kind of scene before and we all knew what was going to happen. I think there was a ghost movie that did the whole sheet thing and had some ghost feet in there. Wasn’t scary then either.
I can’t think of any performance in this movie that really worked for me. A great deal of that responsibility is due to Bailee Madison. She wasn’t a particularly bad actress, but her character was such a little bitch for the first half of the movie. It’s probably not a popular belief system, but I am all for kicking a little girl in the throat for being a little snot like that. Too far? I’ll reel it back. She did get on my nerves terribly bad. I got the feeling that, if Katie Holmes had gotten to name her, she would’ve been named Surly Cruise. Yeah! I stayed up all night writing that joke! Katie Holmes’ character didn’t bother me that much. She seemed a little dumb at first, but was thankfully the first one to start believing the kid. I always find myself getting annoyed with the parents when they act like everything the kid’s saying is horseshit even with all the signs to the contrary. Speaking of which, Guy Pearce! That was my description of his character in the movie. The actual parent was just waiting to yell, “You’re full of shit,” every time the little girl started talking.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark made no impact whatsoever on my fear of the dark. First of all, I don’t like being told what to do. And second, it wasn’t very scary. There was no suspense, no chills, and the creatures may be unsettling on the first viewing, but lose their steam pretty quickly as you see them about as much as you see any other character in the movie. The premise is interesting, the delivery is not, and I found the majority of the performances irritating. Not the worst movie, and at least it’s pretty short, but there’s no good reason to watch it. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark gets “Turn off the lights” out of “Don’t tell me you believe this.”
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