Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark Review: With Protagonists Like This, Who Needs Enemies?

Yell! Magazine’s review of Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark:

Before we begin, let me make one comment about how I look at rating a film. Critics try to judge films objectively based on the direction, structure, coherence, acting, and yada yada yada. After the usual dissection, we try to put into words exactly how the movie feels as an experience. Try to look at three stars as something that can be recommended to anyone, while anything lower kind of lays in the area of “If it’s your thing, then you’ll like it.” Some movies are just awe-inspiring to the right audience, some can be a guilty pleasure, and some are so bad, they’re good. With that being said, I’ll try to speak to both horror fans and enemies of bad plotting with regard to Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.

Our story opens with enough atmosphere to become a tangible substance, grab you by the throat and hold you against a wall. It tells the tragic tale of Blackwood’s sacrifice for the sake of his son — kidnapped at the hands of monstrously ugly creatures. He leaves them a delicious offering of human teeth, yet, alas, they totally kick his ass.

But don’t let yourself be fooled by the graceful mating dance of the introductory scene. It beckons you with its mysterious premise and leaves you with a curiosity for the horrible beasts. “Oh boy, what a treat this will be!” you might say, but be forewarned: If you’re the type who has certain limits with regard to just how much you can suspend your disbelief, then get your forehead ready to be slapped.

We time skip 100 years to the present day and find ourselves in the company of Alex (Guy Pearce) – architect, designer and obtusely despondent father extraordinaire, and his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) the self-doubting soon-to-be stepmother who aids him in the exciting field of interior decorating.

The couple has taken up residence in the delightfully spooky Blackwood house in an unsacred attempt to fix up the old place, and convince some poor loser to move in afterward. Unfortunately, they’ve been sacked with the responsibility of carting along Alex’s daughter Sally (Bailee Madison), who’s just been shipped off to live with them – courtesy of his ex-wife. Understandably, Sally has issues, what with the whole “nobody wants me” thing going on. To make matters worse, her mother’s managed to force her into a gluten-free diet and is shown to be profusely grabbin’ pills in the form of Adderall, so that she can stop thinking so damn much.

Soon, mysterious creatures begin whispering to her about how they’re “her friends” in the creepiest, raspiest tones that never fail to cause alarm. Because of her depression, she quickly seeks out the obviously evil disembodied voices and almost deliberately brings chaos to everyone in the house.

The kid you’ll love to hate.

Now, if you know your horror movies, you know that the separating line that divides the good from the bad lies in the two ways that the plot can be moved along. For instance, you could have your characters act and react convincingly to a sinister force that is altogether smarter than they are. This puts you in the shoes of the protagonists, and it makes it all the scarier, because you wouldn’t know what to do either. If you’re trying to scare an audience and assume they’re not retarded, this is definitely the way to go. As you can guess, the second way demands a certain immaculate sense of stupidity from any protagonist who finds themselves in trouble, because they willingly throw themselves in danger time after time, even after knowing the circumstances at hand.

It’s in this regard that Don’t be Afraid of the Dark might not only alienate, but also actually aggravate certain viewers. You see, most of the plot is driven by the decisions of Sally, the 10 year old with a penchant for causing shit to hit the fan. To a certain extent, we’re supposed to feel sorry for her and sympathize with her plea, but she goes out of her way to endanger herself and others as well. Instead of wanting to protect her, you want to smack her upside the head and remove all sharp objects from the house, because she’ll probably jam one of them into her eye when she gets bored.

In one case, you can buy that her active imagination will lead her to want a glimpse of the strange creatures that say they want to be her friends. The voices can be a little over-the-top and might even hit that “so bad it’s good” level mentioned before, (“I brought you raisins! They’re delicious!” “Yeeessss. Delicioussssss”) but whatever, the first act is likable enough for you to just go with it.

Where most would draw the line though, is when she voluntarily continues to follow after the creatures, immediately after bearing witness to the mangled results of their attack on one of the other characters, and after they outright tried to kill her themselves. Why the hell would any fourth grader chase after a herd of goblin men that hunt in packs, after confessing to her parents that she’s scared out of her mind? The answer: The plot’s gotta move somehow, I guess.

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (2010)
"Don't go in there! It's not safe for children!" "But they said they had balloons…"

Afterward, we learn of the creature’s (varying and inconsistent) sensitivity to light. Do you think Sally would — oh, I don’t know — turn the lights on or something? No dice, bro. Instead she sits alone in the dark with a flashlight. At one point, after a particular attack, her parents rushed into the room, flipped the light switch on, and a collective groan was heard throughout the audience.

Eventually, the allegedly contagious stupidity is adopted by Kim and Alex. One of them gains all the pieces of the puzzle, and even understands the supernatural predicament at hand. Solution: Stay in the house one more night. Hey, great idea. Why don’t you go make toast in the bathtub too? I hear it’s delicious. (“Yeessss. Delicioussssss”)

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (2010)
"If we don't leave this house, we're all going to die. I'll be sure to tell everyone over breakfast tomorrow."

But, to the film’s credit, it does build a good deal of tension, and even if the jump scares are predictable, they’ll still manage to get you. Some might find the monsters funnier than they are scary, but they still manage to be somewhat threatening nonetheless. Without revealing too much, it’s worth mentioning that one specific scene that was supposed to evoke terror left the entire audience cracking up.

All in all, I can’t say it’s a terrible movie; it looks great and sounds even better, but it’s held back in the sense that you want the characters to die just because they’re so damn stupid. Despite all this, I can honestly say that it’s not boring, and as a movie, it was definitely entertaining. You may run out of steam toward the ending, because you probably won’t care about any of the protagonists. Hell, you might even want them dead. I know I did.

Verdict: [rating:2.5]

Horror fans should definitely check it out, as it’s a refreshing departure from the genre’s current experiments in shock value. It goes to show that a bit of ambience can go a long way. At the same time, there’s just something about a movie that tries to sell itself based on the assumption that you hold the cognitive faculties of a bag of potatoes. No one should be assumed to be that stupid. If you’re not prone to gritting your teeth at the idea of having your mouth crammed full of plot holes, then give it a look, have a laugh, and enjoy a screaming good time. Everyone else, however, will most likely find themselves flipping off the screen and crapping their pants with rage.

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark (2010) Poster Large
Yell! Rating (x/5 Skulls):
Year Released:
26 August 2011
Troy Nixey
Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Edwina Ritchard, Garry McDonald, Carolyn Shakespeare-Allen, Julia Blake, Nicholas Bell, and Bailee Madison
Horror, Thriller
Official URL:
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark

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