DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (director: Troy Nixey; screenwriters: Guillermo del Toro/Matthew Robbins/based on the teleplay by Nigel McKeand; cinematographer: Oliver Stapleton; editor: Jill Bilcock; music: Marco Beltrami/Buck Sanders; cast: Katie Holmes (Kim), Guy Pearce (Alex), Bailee Madison (Sally), Garry McDonald (Blackwood), Edwina Ritchard (Miss Winter), Jack Thompson (Harris), Julia Blake (Mrs. Underhill), Nicholas Bell (Psychiatrist); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Mark Johnson/Guillermo del Toro; Film District; 2010)

"Blends together a psychological fairy tale with a horror story that has aesthetic value but never hits one in the guts to make you wince."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

A  re-make of the 1973 made-for-TV 'haunted house' movie, from the teleplay by Nigel McKeand, that was shot in New Zealand. The background music uses the same instruments used in the 1970s, giving it a pleasing retro flavor. Newcomer Troy Nixey, a comic book artist, effectively directs, getting the atmosphere right and a very good performance from the child star and acceptable performances from the adult leads--Katie Holmes gets into her role with zeal, while Guy Pearce might be a little too distant for my taste but is still suitable for the role of the distracted dad. Noted director Guillermo del Toro is co-producer and co-writer with Matthew Robbins of this 'child in peril' tale, and his fingerprints are all over the film. The old-fashioned creepy flick begins with some gory scares, but soon changes directions as it blends together a psychological fairy tale with a horror story that has aesthetic value but never hits one in the guts to make you wince.

It opens in the 19th century with wildlife artist Blackwood (Garry McDonald) going insane in the basement studio of his Rhode Island mansion because his 8-year-old child has been taken by demonic gnomes to live with them in the netherworld and they demand the teeth of another child. Blackwood tries to oblige by brutalizing his housekeeper to knock out her teeth and then vanishes, as the evil fairies only want the teeth of a child. We now flash to modern times and ambitious self-absorbed architect Alex (Guy Pearce) has invested all his dough in restoring the Blackwood mansion. Alex is divorced and his neurotic LA ex-wife sends their neurotic 9-year-old daughter Sally (Bailee Madison) to live with him and his interior designer girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) in the Gothic mansion. Sally, feeling tossed around like a football, acts frosty toward Kim, who can't relate to the kid as she wishes to forget her hurtful childhood. On the first day at the mansion the curious child explores the grounds and within a few minutes uncovers a sealed basement (something her dad hasn't discovered despite living there for some time). Sally also skips across a circle of mushrooms, which as a fairy-tale motif indicates big trouble is in store for her as she's awakened the gnomes. The gruff caretaker Mr. Harris (Jack Thompson) is upset because of the discovery of the basement/studio and warns the arrogant master of the house not to unseal it. Of course, he immediately opens up the basement and the house turns creepy with strange whispered sounds and the demonic fairies emerge from their netherworld to taunt and frighten little Sally. She wants to go back to the Left Coast, but her harried biological mom doesn't listen to her, her preoccupied caring dad can now only think about selling the restoration for a killing and the step-mother struggles to see if she wants to mother the vulnerable but feisty child.

The tale is intelligent enough, with some Jungian psychological motifs thrown into the blender, but the pic is never warm enough for us to fully care that much about any of the characters and when the finale has them battling for their lives with the demonic tooth fairies, it just seems like a thousand other horror pics that are a little short on imagination.

Told from the child's POV has its advantages and disadvantages. The pros are that it's easy to focus in on the child trauma part and how the unwanted anxious girl goes around with a Polaroid taking pics because none of the adults take the trouble to listen to her and she wants to show them proof of the fairies to back up what she's saying. The psychiatrist who treats her thinks the solution to her monster problem is increasing the dosage of her prescribed meds, which is a poignant commentary on the way our busy modern society looks for such convenient drug remedies to resolve such communication problems between parent and child. But there are also the cons of looking at it solely through a child's POV, as kids might be scared by fairies with big teeth coming out of the walls but for adults it's hard to suspend one's belief unless the film makes things seem real for them. At least it doesn't go in the slasher pic direction, hinted at in the gruesome opening scene, and instead aims to keep it arty and move it into fairy tale sod.

REVIEWED ON 8/26/2011       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"