Have you ever wondered what the Tooth Fairy does with your teeth once it exchanges them for a coin under your pillow? Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) thinks he knows, and if you’ve seen any of his previous films, it will come as no surprise that his theory is dark, creepy, and anything but nice.
Young Sally Hurst (played by the talented Bailee Madison) has been sent by her mother to stay with her father, Alex (Guy Pearce), in Rhode Island at Blackwood, a Victorian mansion that Alex and his new girlfriend, Kim (Katie Holmes), are restoring. Alex is consumed with the restoration in order to establish himself as a world class architect, and has no time to bond with his troubled and Ritalin-popping daughter.
But we've seen in the film’s gruesome opening sequence - featuring a surprise piece of casting in Garry McDonald (best remembered for his Australian comedy character, Norman Gunston) as Emerson Blackwood, an artist and builder of the mansion - that the dark, yet beautiful mansion has a disturbing past which the caretaker, Mr. Harris (played by Jack Thompson with an almost passable American accent), would prefer to keep undiscovered.
Filmed on location just outside of Melbourne, the cinematographer and set designers offer a real treat, both indoors and out. I was envious as I watched the determined Sally explore the house and lush surrounding gardens (echoes of del Toro's own Pan's Labyrinth), and finding the mysterious hidden basement which has kept the evil imprisoned within for 100 years.
If you hear whispering voices echoing your name from deep within a subterranean ash pit, you'd remove the bolts securing the door to see what’s within, wouldn’t you? Sally does, and unwittingly unleashes the little grotesque creatures who proceed to wreak havoc upon the house. And of course, it’s only Sally who (at first) sees and hears them.
The creature design, visual effects and voice talent portraying the creatures are top notch, but the line regarding less is more is crossed too readily and they are simply not as effective as when they remained in the shadows, taunting Sally from behind teddy bears or hissing her name through the walls.
I have yet to see the 1970’s television movie which del Toro, as co-writer and producer, has based this at times scary remake on but celebrated comic book artist, Troy Nixey (Mike Mignola’s Batman, and Neil Gaiman’s Only the End of the World Again), shows great promise as a genre director in this, his feature film debut.
Bridging the gaps of logic in the script, however, proved to be a bit beyond him. Improbable actions from the adult characters left me not caring as much as the filmmakers intended us to, and Katie Holmes again shows her limited range in a role no doubt written to be a strong, sympathetic heroine but which she fails to bring off.
The real fun to be had with Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark comes from Bailee Madison’s great performance, and experiencing the terror through the eyes of the misunderstood Sally. Adults may no longer jump at things that go bump in the night, but kids know better than to close their eyes - or lose their teeth.