If you are under the impression that fairies are cute, sparkly, mythical creatures that live under mushrooms, you are dead wrong. Such is the case for 10-year-old Sally Hirst (Bailee Madison), who discovers that something severely more sinister lurks within her new home at Blackwood manor.
Loosely based on the 1973 made-for-TV movie of the same name, producer Guillermo del Toro’s “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” surrounds the misfortune that befalls Sally, her divorced father (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend (Katie Holmes) when Sally releases a century-old evil upon herself from the depths of her bolted-up furnace.
First of all, just as a basic rule, if you cannot see where a voice is coming from, you do not listen to it. Secondly, if these voices say such blatantly disturbing things as “Your parents don’t want you, but we do,” and “We’re so hungry,” you do not follow any other instructions they give you—especially if it involves unlocking a heavily bolted furnace grate that’s clearly been closed off for a reason. Of course, what’s a horror movie without a few bad judgment calls?
This film stays true to past del Toro films: the plot is haunting but sentimental, and the creatures are as unsettlingly macabre as the setting for the film (think “Pan’s Labyrinth” minus the Nazis). However, “Don’t Be Afraid” contrasts with del Toro’s past productions solely due to the fact that it is just as ludicrous as it is horrific. This fact was further evidenced by the audience, who laughed more than they shuddered, and was best summed up by the large black lady sitting next to me during the credits: “How in the hell did Katie Holmes get dragged off by one pound gnomes?”
I laughed at that—I mean, who would honestly be scared of little critters who only want to eat children’s teeth? Hollywood must be out of ideas, because that bordered more on bizarre than terrifying. The other comment that really lampooned the movie was from my sister, who described the evil faeries as “house elves,” and when one died she whispered ominously to me, “That one was Dobby.”
Still, I will give credit where credit is due. Del Toro’s stunning set design in “Don’t Be Afraid” is one of the clear highlights of the film. The baroque-style furniture and ornate carvings that are found throughout Blackwood manor not only enhance the antique aura of the house, but also characterize how ancient the evil within the house is. Since art becomes a central theme in the story, the beautifully twisted carvings only add to the disturbing nature of the film.
The plot buildup appeared to be promising, but, in my opinion, failed to deliver at the end. If you’re looking for a good B-list thrill, this one’s the ticket. There’s a reason the original was a television movie.