Aug 10, 2011

Review: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (NYC Premiere 8 August 2011)

Director: Troy Nixey
Release Date: 25 August 2011
Rating: (TBC)
Runtime: 110 mins

Horror: if you were expecting another brilliant ride from the mind of Guillermo del Toro who wrote and produced this number, then yes, spot on. If you were expecting a typical horror film, prepare to delight in the many ways this entirely fascinating remake of the 1973 John Newland film Don't Be Afraid of the Dark subverts and adds to the genre. 

Sally (Bailee Madison), this time a pre-teen, is shipped off to live with her architect Dad, Alex, (Guy Pearce) and his interior designer girlfriend, Kim (Katie Holmes) who are in the midst of transforming an old, gothic-style home on Rhode Island. It's clear from the outset that Sally lacks stability in her life and is something of a nervous, yet angry child.

There is, as you would expect, an innate strangeness attached to the house, and it soon becomes apparent that something or someone wants to assimilate Sally into the bones of it. From here we start getting into the serious horror beats and the deadly serious scares, but rest assured the combination of fairy-lore and the naturally-occuring humour ensure the audience is consistently intrigued and entertained.

Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce check out the new bat cave.

The dynamic that del Toro and co-writer Matthew Robbins set up between Sally and Kim, a childless twenty-something woman whose obvious and primary goal in life up until now has been to build her career, is so valuable to creating a believable character arc for these two female leads. The development of their relationship is key: Sally's trust in Kim grows steadily as she proves herself to be genuinely concerned with the young girl's welfare, acting as a fierce protector and confidante. 

Bailee Madison may be relative newcomer to this planet, but for one so young, she wields an impressive Hollywood rap-sheet with roles in Bridge to Terabithia, Just Go With It, and many a made-for-television movie. At the premiere in del Toro's brief introduction prior to the start of the film, he described her as 'the grand Dame of horror herself, Bailee Madison'. Sure, she screams her way through this one with applomb, but she also steals every single scene, no matter the situation she finds herself in.

Flashlight gags = so much fun.
First-time feature Director Troy Nixey (who made the short Latchkey's Lament) has used the multitude of tools afforded him (a remarkable writer and producer in del Toro; first-class actors; and an ├╝ber-experienced crew) to such great effect, it seems likely there are many features to come. In terms of his vision for the film, it's apparent his former career drawing comic books has helped enormously. Paired with Art Director extraordinnaire Lucinda Thompson (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and more recently, Where the Wild Things Are) and Director of Photography Oliver Stapleton, the visual aesthetic has translated into a very visceral 'shiver' on the part of the audience. 

As ornate and eerie as Pan's Labyrinth before it, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark perfectly matches a multilayered story with a mutlilayered visual journey. There are so few current films that can boast this achievement.

Featuring the best apple pie-scene since American Pie, Guillermo del Toro and Troy Nixey have delivered an enjoyable nail-biter rent with a lush design aesthetic, menacing soundscape (not to mention the score by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders, which harks back to the Golden Age of composition), and sharp, lucid writing.

NOTE: For further information on Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, the Q&A summary with Guillermo del Toro, Katie Holmes, Troy Nixey, and Bailee Madison will be up shortly.

1 comment:

Jules said...

Nice one! I'm still a little traumatised by The Orphanage, but can see this in my near future!