Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (DVD Review)

DVD of the creepy horror film Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011) starring Bailee Madison, Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce.

Image Courtesy of Alliance Films

Dir: Troy Nixey ("Latchkey's Lament")
Cast: Bailee Madison, Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Julia Blake, Jack Thompson
USA/Australia/Mexico, 2011

Reason to see: Horror movie

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011) is a remake of a 1973 film of the same name, and sometimes I can be harsh on remakes but I thought I would give this one a try. We follow a young girl named Sally who comes to stay with her father (Guy Pearce) who is restoring an old mansion. There certainly was a sense of the house being wounded, like patching over worn out pieces over and over until even the patches are threadbare, and this tone floats through the film giving it a creepiness that really works for horror. So I was feeling like we were off to a good start.

I was actually quite looking forward to Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011), because I'd not seen the original and therefore was looking forward to seeing the story for the first time. That didn’t turn out quite as I had imagined, because I figured out the story pretty early. I know I watch a lot of horror & supernatural films, and lots of film, but it felt too clear to me. Perhaps mystery wasn't the goal. A lot of the scares come across in tone and ideas so there is still that, but even then at times when for really visceral look-away-from-the-screen moments, which wasn’t quite the kind of surprize I was hoping for.

On the flip side, the film definitely had things that I enjoyed. The mansion it is set in is beautiful, it feels so rare to see something of that scale and it has great art direction showing the house in different states of repair and distress. I also loved that it had a young girl as the protagonist and Bailee Madison does a great job at being the sullen Sally. I was also impressed by Katie Holmes, who did a fair amount with a role that wasn't that meaty. I could really feel that her character had a full and complete history and I wanted to know more about it. I also really liked the relationship between their two characters, it felt unique and I really enjoyed that. I’ll look forward to seeing both of their work in the future.

Sadly, the film has more than a few conveniences that are jammed into the story to make later things work, and you can feel they are devices. Horror is a challenge that way, you really need to be able to establish that with subtly because it certainly needs to be there, but it also needs the logic for us to believe it at all times. It also like it wanted to be set in the past not the present but it ...was in the present. Why not just set it in the past? It's already got the nostalgia of the dilapidated house; I could have seen it in the past. Perhaps that would be too much given that it’s a remake. Overall, I liked the idea of the story and the tone that it set, but I didn’t always believe what was happening. From the conveniences to the characters moments, there were too many things that didn’t quite work which is really too bad. A few tweaks here and there would have had us twitching in our seats.

Warnings: Disturbing imagery & ideas and some gore

DVD Extras:
Don't Be Afraid... Documentary of 3 Featurettes:
  • The Story (6 minutes) film clips, behind the scenes and interviews with director Troy Nixey, executive producer William Horberg, producer/co-writer Guillermo del Toro and actors Guy Pearce & Katie Holmes on making a classic horror film, bringing the film to life, on the original film and how scary it is, the 15+ year process of bringing the film to life, the crossover of ideas/themes between this film and other del Toro films, the updating of the character of Sally to a more currently believable character, the relatable family dynamic and struggles, the films connection to stories and folk lore.
  • Blackwood's Mansion (5 minutes) film clips, behind the scenes, concept art and interviews with director Troy Nixey, production designer Roger Ford, executive producer Stephen Jones, cinematographer Oliver Stapleton and actor Katie Holmes on historical architecture, the design of the Blackwood house, the colour palettes in the film, the contrast between the inside & outside worlds in the film, how they created the house for the film, the choice to work against a 'scary looking' house, the stages construction for the film and the creepy feel texture created for the film.
  • The Creatures (9 minutes) concept art, creature sculptures, previsualization, behind the scenes, film clips and interviews with producer/co-writer Guillermo del Toro, visual effects producer Iloura Digital Ineke Majoor, visual effects producer Scott Shapiro, director Troy Nixon, lead VFX supervisor Iloura Digital Glenn Melenhorst, executive producer Stephen Jones on the question of to show or not to show the monster in monster films, the characters of the creatures, what they wanted the creatures to look like and their histories, the visual nod/connection of the creatures to the original film, the inspiration for the movement of the creature, discussion and example of previsualization, the onset filming, mapping & techniques done to incorporate them with the visual effects done; plus young actor Bailee Madison on working with not actually seeing anything.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011) is available on DVD as of January 3, 2011. Check it out over at Amazon.ca & Amazon.com

Shannon's Overall View:
I enjoyed it, but wanted to enjoy it more
I'd watch it again
I'd recommend it for people that like drama-centric creepy films

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© Shannon Ridler, 2011 - 2012
Originally reviewed for Theatrical Release - September 8, 2011

Guy Pearce stars in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, an Alliance Films release. Photo Credit Carolyn Johns

Bailee Madison stars in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, an Alliance Films release. Photo Credit Carolyn Johns

Katie Holmes (left) and Bailee Madison (right) star in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, an Alliance Films release. Photo Credit Carolyn Johns

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