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Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/3/2012

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/28/2011

This time of year, we think a lot about presents. (And hopefully everyone got what they asked for.) But, this should also be a time to think about the other pronunciation of the word "presents". For years, Hollywood has loved to put "_____ Presents" in front of a movie's title. This usually features the name of a director or perhaps an actor with which we are familiar. Steven Spielberg has been "presenting" movies since the mid-80s. This device implies that the movie will have the same attributes or quality which we've come to expect from these individuals. But, the important thing to remember is that the "presenter" may have had little to do with the writing or directing of the film. Therefore, a certain buyer beware should accompany any "presents" movie. We learned this with Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark shows us a family in turmoil. Alex (Guy Pearce) is an architect who restores old houses. He and his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) have undertaken a project in a mansion in New England. Alex's ex-wife ships their young daughter, Sally (Bailee Madison), to live with Alex, who must now balance his deadline with watching over Sally. The girl is very unhappy about the move and finds herself wandering the house. Sally finds an undiscovered basement, whose door has been hidden behind a wall. The basement appears to have housed the workplace of the house's original owner, as well as a large furnace grate. Sally hears whispering voices coming from the grate, and then begins to see small, shadowy figures in the house. The voices beckon to her, but Alex and Kim don't believe her. It's not until things goes missing around the house and a worker is injured that Sally begins to gather evidence that the house may be full of monsters.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is based on a made-for-TV movie from 1973. I've always wanted to see the film, but haven't. For years, there was no way to see it, unless one could hunt down an old VHS. It was released via Warner "on demand" DVD in 2009, but I never got around to seeing it. However, I have read about this movie for literally decades and everyone who's seen it claims that it's the scariest TV movie ever. (Even scarier than the vampires outside of the window in Salem's Lot? I doubt it.) Thus, I was intrigued by remake, especially since Guillermo del Toro was behind the film. Aside from being an accomplished filmmaker, del Toro has proven himself to be a true fan and advocate of the horror genre. (And he's been affiliated with impressive movies like The Orphanage and Splice.)

Having now seen the 2011 version of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, I can conclude that the original is very overrated or a lot of things went wrong with the remake, as it's not a very good movie. Let's get to the biggest problem first -- the movie is never scary or even creepy. The trailer made the film look as if it would be another Spanish-influence creep-fest, but it never is. The happens for a few reasons. First of all, the whispering creatures can be difficult to understand at times. You may need to turn on the subtitles to hear how they are trying to entice Sally. Secondly, and most importantly, the creatures themselves simply aren't scary looking. In the extras on the Blu-ray Disc, del Toro comments that he loves monster movies and isn't afraid to show the monsters. But, when they are finally revealed, they aren't scary and their actions made me think more of Gremlins, than anything truly frightening. The production design in the movie is very impressive, as the house creates a truly gothic atmosphere, but it's never scary.

The movie is also hampered by some lapses in logic. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark presents us with the stereotypical "someone knows the truth and no one believes them" horror movie scenario. However, unlike other movies of this ilk, Alex and Kim are presented with a wealth of evidence that Sally may be telling the truth, but they don't act. Yes, Alex does the standard "I can't walk away from this investment" schtick, but there must be a middle ground between doing nothing and leaving the house. They find drawings of the creatures from the house's original owner and Sally even kills one and nothing happens...literally -- once Sally kills the creature, there's never a comment on what was done with the body, was it even found, etc. There are subplots about teeth and the church which go nowhere, and somehow the creatures have a stash of ancient coins. The origin/fate of the creatures is barely touched on in the movie, and it took the extras on the Disc to fully explain it.

So, what's left? A lot of scenes of Sally either hiding in the dark or pleading to be believed. This is capped off by a bleak ending which comes out of nowhere. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is an odd movie. The production design suggests that a lot of care went into the film, but the story feels half-baked at best. What should have been, at the very least, creepy is a boring and uninvolving. I don't know about the dark, but I'm afraid of ever sitting through this movie again.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark made me more aware of the dangers of tiny tripwires on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 36 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing little to no grain and no defects from the source material. As the title would imply, this is a dark movie, but the image is never overly dark and the action is always visible. The color palette is dark as well, but the colors are realistic and look fine. The picture shows excellent detail and we can make out all of the fine carvings in the house's woodwork. The depth is impressive too. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track really takes advantage of the whispering creatures, as their voices fill the stereo and surround channels. (Although, as mentioned above, what they're saying isn't always clear.) These effects are nicely detailed and it's fun to hear them bound around the room. The subwoofer effects are well-done as well, adding emphasis to the creature's attacks and bringing in the illusion of the heavy doors in the house.

The Don't Be Afraid of the Dark Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. "Don't Be Afraid... Documentary" is broken up into three sections and runs a total of 21 minutes. In "The Story", Del Toro talks about his love for the original movie and his drive to remake the movie and what his goals for the film were. There is also a look at the cast here. "Blackwood's Mansion" examines the look of the movie along with Production Designer Roger Ford and Director Troy Nixey who show us how movie magic was used to turn an existing house into the mansion. We see production sketches and a time-lapse of the construction. "The Creatures" shows us how the creatures were designed and then brought to life. We also get an idea of how the creatures were meant to be distinct, which doesn't come across in the movie. The only other extra is a "Conceptual Art Gallery" which shows some production design, but is made up mostly of drawings of the creatures.

Review Copyright 2011 by Mike Long