Synopsis: A family move into a creepy mansion and are terrorised by bloodthirsty fairies.
Guillermo del Toro once described the 1973 telefilm Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark, as “the scariest TV production ever made,” bold words for one of the world’s most respected horror aficionados. So at just under forty years since its release, it seems only appropriate that del Toro would revive this creepy caper to terrify a whole new generation.
The original film focused primarily on a young couple who move into a creepy old mansion, with the wife quickly discovering that it is inhabited by goblin-like creatures baiting for her spirit. In this updated version penned by del Toro and Matthew Robins, the couple is replaced by a splintered family of three: Guy Pearce as dad, Katie Holmes as the unwanted stepmom and the impressive Bailee Madison as the already troubled daughter come to stay. Similarly the story has changed very little since its original TV airing, with the only exception being that the goblins are replaced with fairy-like demons hell bent on securing the teeth of little children to quench their thirst.
Don’t Be Afraid is as old school as they come, with a story that feels like it’s been lifted right out of a Grimm fairytale or child’s Goosebumps book. Perhaps then it’s easy to see why a story such as this would interest the likes of the fantastical Spanish director. However, this isn’t the del Toro show, despite what posters might have you believe. This is veteran comic book artist Troy Nixey’s hoedown, and, it has to be said, it’s a fairly solid effort from the debutant director. Not electrifying, but you’d be hard pushed to fault his efforts on this evidence, with even the CGI monsters acquitting themselves with gusto.
The only thing lacking was perhaps a sense that del Toro and Robins didn’t push the boat out quite far enough when it came to the scares. Granted, the film’s creepy and you’re kept endlessly on your toes, but the jumpy ‘arse off seat’ moments are few and far between.
Equally, it’s a shame that the writers failed to capitalise on the magnificent looking locations at the film’s disposal. With a mansion surrounded by a huge garden, complete with bizarre trees, ornaments, ponds and a bushy labyrinth (all shown at great length during daylight scenes), it’s a shame that the nasty critters are confined to the house, scuttling around behind walls and attacking the inhabitants in every room bar the cupboard. It’s a small criticism but you can’t help but regret a missed opportunity in the story.
Sure – Don’t Be Afraid could be a lot more scary, in fact if it really tried it could be endlessly more bloody and infinitely more shocking; but, that said, after years of senseless ‘torture porn’ (Saw, Hostel), never-ending franchises (Final Destination, Scream) and the even more dreadful horror reboots (Nightmare on Elm Street, My Bloody Valentine) you can’t help but appreciate the welcome breath of fresh air Nixey and del Toro have created within the stagnant mainstream horror genre.