Artwork for an earlier proposed release is quite stunning
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, shot mostly in Australia (standing in for Rhode Island, US) is an agreeable horror movie with slick production values, non-hurried pacing, solid performances, and believable special effects. It also comes with a free odor that smells like Joe Dante's Gremlins.
The question arises: Is "agreeable" enough? A young girl (Bailee Madison), who looks like a slightly pudgy, moppet version of Katie Holmes (who also appears), starts to hear and see little monsters in the house that her father (Guy Pearce) has recently purchased. Nobody believes her until the blood-letting begins.
The film is a remake of a decent telemovie and, thanks to Troy Nixey's controlled direction, makes no hideous errors. It's just not terribly involving. I always felt like I was watching actors doing things. There were no vicarious thrills.
It was amusing to see Australia's 'Norman Gunston' (Gary McDonald) killed off in the opening scene. Other Aussie thesps such as Jack Thompson, doing a gruff American accent, turn in decent performances. Pearce, usually solid, is solid here, too.
The film is R-rated in the U.S., but I don't think the rating is deserved. Hostel 2 was also R-rated, and that was a gleeful extravaganza of grue. This is not. Come on, MPAA, let's have some consistency. I know, I know, that's like asking a politician for full disclosure. The violence here is fairly light, a little bloody, and there are some stabbings with miniature instruments. Films such as this are generally judged on their suspense quotient. Unfortunately, there isn't much suspense for the viewer here, although there is some for the characters. In this type of dramatic construction, it's a problem when the viewers are ahead of the characters.
I like Guillermo del Torro because he's a genre enthusiast. He saw this film's source many years ago and thought it could be a choice candidate for a remake. In an interview, he mentioned that they shot the film with a PG-13 in mind, but got hit with an R rating. This approach explains the timidity of the material. It doesn't explain why it's not terribly creepy, though. I fear we're suffering a horror overload and it's getting harder and harder for filmmakers to come up with stuff that rattles us. Everything is accessible to anyone these days. Horror films like this almost feel quaint.
Those in the eight to thirteen age group who haven't lived long enough to process experience into "quaint" would have enjoyed this moving picture. Shame the rating excludes its perfect audience.