Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Review: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)

Little Sally is unhappy.  She's been packed off to live with her estranged father and his new girlfriend in a huge, exquisitely appointed Victorian mansion that he's renovating for a major magazine shoot before flipping it for a profit.  Lonely and neglected, Sally explores the grounds and discovers a sealed basement room with a bolted ash grate from which come voices–creepy, whispering voices that want to be her friends.  When the grate opens, at first Sally thinks that strange playmates have been liberated, but they soon turn out to be anything but.

A remake of the cult classic 1973 television play, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is not a dreadful film.  In many ways, it's quite good, but it is an example of why remakes are not always, or even generally, a good idea even if the filmmaker is a talented professional who loves the original.  Though this version strives to be as scary as the original and works hard to recreate much of its vocabulary, it is, in the end unsuccessful.  Part of the problem is the attempt to break new ground with the child-in-jeopardy plot, which is disturbing rather than frightening as is the dysfunctional family subplot, which is merely distracting.

But the main problem is very simple: The budget is too large.  The mansion setting is too grand to be claustrophobic and all location shooting at airports and in New York only destroy what little atmosphere is created.  Where the original budget only allowed for three evil creatures who were never clearly seen and always wrapped in mystery, here we have an army of rat monsters with a detailed back story that dispels any hope of engaging the audience's imagination.  Worse, it drops major holes in the plot, not the least of which is why the creatures don't just grab Sally and carry her off the second they're alone with her.  In the original, the creatures were few and had to engineer events to "get" the adult Sally.  Here, they're a horde who have no such limitations.  They're also established as mortal as more than one is squashed in one of the set piece battles.  This got so bad that by the end, I was waiting for someone to hit one of the creatures in the mouth with a piece of apple pie, which would lead to a look of delighted revelation and the film ending with the family and their new friends all sitting around the kitchen table laughing over plates of pie and big glasses of milk.

It wouldn't have been any more disappointing.

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