This is a film that’s more interested in creeping you out than it is in making you jump or wince. The original TV film, which I have not seen, involved a young woman (Kim Darby) being terrorized by mysterious little demonic creatures in the house she and her husband (Jim Hutton) inherit. The new film has been what we might call Guillermo del Toro-ed (who co-wrote and produced) in that the focus has changed to a young girl, Sally (Bailee Madison), making it more of a piece with other del Toro works dating back to Cronos in 1993. The screenplay also adds a layer of complexity in that Sally is a neglected child, shunted from her (never seen) apparently nut-job mother in L.A. to her distracted, self-absorbed architect father, Alex (Guy Pearce), and his interior designer girlfriend, Kim (Katie Holmes), who are in the process of restoring an old mansion. Sally is the perfect target for the demons, who whisper their desire to be her friend, something she’s clearly in the market for. The problem, of course, is that they aren’t friendly in the least and have evil designs. That’s really all there is to the plot, which proceeds in a relatively straightforward haunted house format. It can be argued that nothing exactly surprising happens, but what does happen is finely crafted. It’s also surprisingly literate — when was the last time you heard a film invoke the name of Welsh horror/fantasy writer Arthur Machen? — and its mythology is believably creepy. Of course, all this requires the basic haunted house suspension of disbelief over why the characters just don’t get out of the damned place, but that goes with the territory. If, like me, you’re a sucker for creepy old houses with secret rooms that ooze menace, then you’re apt to find Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark a pleasantly unsettling bit of moviemaking.
Director: Troy Nixey
Writer: Matthew Robbins and Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Alan Dale, Bailee Madison, Jack Thompson, Dylan Young, Julia Blake, Eliza Taylor-Cotter, Emelia Burns and Garry McDonald