“Don’t be afraid of the dark” – (2010, USA/Australia/Mexico, 99 minutes – rated R)
This definitely has Guillermo DelToro’s fingerprints over it, but despite the occasional clever touch, this adaptation of a 1973 teleplay falls way short from the original.
In this version, the medicated offspring (Bailee Madison) of a divorced yuppie couple is sent to live with her father (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend (Katie Holmes). Daddy and the girlfriend are renovating the auld mansion of Emerson Blackwood who disappeared mysteriously shortly after his young son about a century ago.
Daddy is in hock up to his eyeballs in this project and his mind’s not exactly on parental priorities, if they ever were. The girlfriend, almost virginal in the purity of her intentions, tries her best to befriend the daughter, Kim, and help Daddy be a dad…
Soon, Kim hears strange noises coming from below, through the old ducts, and faint voices of creatures wanting to be friends. At this point, mind you, they sound a bit like chipmunks at half speed. And whatever meds Kim is on do not induce paranoia, fortunately, otherwise there would be no story.
The creatures keep up their sing-song schmooze until Kim unscrews the cover of the pit where they are kept from rampaging above. Turns out said creatures are nasty-azz fairies feeding on children teeth, and thanks to Kim, the infestation of a 100 years ago begins again in earnest.
Okay. Visually, there’re a lot of DelToro signature touches. Deep shadows, bright colors, ornate details of an old mansion and the little monsters of course. The garden scenes reminded me also of those in “Pan’s labyrinth“, with whitish fluff floating through the air.
There are several reasons why “don’t be afraid of the dark” doesn’t work. Let’s start with the fairies. Ugly though they may be, they’re not particularly scary, appear too soon and talk too damn much. Funny thing about their speech. When their presence is hinted at, their voices wafting through the vents, they sound almost cutesy. But when in close up, the damn things could belt out “Pagliaccio” at the freaking Milan opera.
A speech impediment would have worked better, giving them a difficult, distorted speech, as though they were recovering from, say, dental surgery. A neat touch, but no… Also, they are way too smart. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that their understanding of things mechanical and electrical gives them an absolute supremacy over a couple of yuppies and a medicated brat.
In this light, why they would waste all this time (this runs 99 minutes while the original teleplay was 74 minutes and so much more powerful in its suggestion of the evil creatures) before getting it done? The chemistry between Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes is… Well, what chemistry? Bailee Madison plays the doped up unwanted offspring maybe too realistically, annoyingly like watching paint dry.
As a means of defense against the photo-sensitive fairies, Katie Holmes gives Bailee Madison her Polaroid camera with flash. First of all, what was that, an antique? Do they even make those anymore? The girl shoots so many damn pictures of the beasties, it’s like a bad shoot ’em up in which the guns never go “click”.
I can suspend disbelief for a while, but when you decide to pan along the garden while blowing leaves for atmosphere, if only a few leaves in the foreground move and the rest of the yard is undisturbed it’s painfully obvious you got a guy just offscreen with a leaf blower and that’s just lazy. What might have saved this clunker would have been the introduction of a tough group of mousers, kinda like a feline “the expendables“, tearing through the fairy hordes for fun and protein, leaving the inept humans to clean up the resulting cat turds from the mahogany and oriental rugs.
I recommend you pass on this stinker…