Fairy good creature feature: should be brought to light!
It is not unusual for an old house to make noises but eerie whispers are the last thing Sally, abandoned by her mother to the custody of her father and his new flame Kim (Katie Holmes), expects to hear coming from a vent in the basement of the 19th Century Blackwood Estate.
At first the voices seem playful and entice the girl’s curiosity, even encouraging her to remove the grill over the vent. But there are sinister motives at work in Guillermo del Toro’s latest monster mash, and when the owners of the voices reveal themselves in a terrifying encounter she sees them for what they are: homicidal fairy folk with a taste for children’s teeth!
Although it has been criticised for failing to work as a horror movie, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark does very well in other ways. The main focus does revolve more around the strained relationship between the girl, her father (Guy Pearce) and her step-mother, but this allows the film to illuminate a key theme: the angst of a terrified little girl, left to face her fears in isolation while her father deems any disturbances as a by-product of her irrational childhood behaviour.
She could easily be saved and yet he is too wrapped up in his own life to stop and care. Kim appears to eventually get through to her and realises something ominous is going on, but even her efforts are limited. In short, Sally is doomed from the start.
Del Toro’s creatures, ugly little grey goblins, are certainly hideous to look at but they spend a lot of time in the limelight. While this means audiences can contemplate their mysterious origin all the more, it does, apart from a couple of jumpy moments, make it rather difficult for them to scare us.
We become accustomed to their odd appearances, to the point where some have even described them as “cute” (I do not share such sentiments). Their mischievous and skittish nature, involving botched attempts to capture their prey, makes it harder still, to take them seriously.
Then again, their terrifying motive generates a sinister atmosphere from the start. You certainly wouldn’t want your children playing with these beasts, no matter what they say.
Before long, their latent viciousness is revealed, and they up their game, raiding the groundskeeper’s tool box for sharp objects! Perhaps this isn’t a scary horror, but it is a disturbing supernatural thriller.
After watching this one, you might feel happy enough to sleep with the lights off, but don’t be surprised if you find the creepy notion of the ‘hidden people’ staying with you a little while longer.
Four Stars: ****