Horror is kind of like porn. Either it's convincing and effective or it's embarrassing and laughable. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is the latter, and there isn't even any nudity. This haunted house of clichés shepherded by Guillermo del Toro brings nary a new idea to the table, and doesn't even execute on old ones effectively. Chalk that up to first time feature director Troy Nixey, who does suspense about as well as Jenna Jameson does acting. And in the end, it's the audience that gets screwed.
Stop me if you've heard this one. A family at odds moves into a charming old mansion with a (gasp!) terrifying secret. If, during Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, you find your mouth agape, it's more likely your letting loose a yawn than a scream. Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes play parent and guardian respectively to Sally (Bailee Madison), a sulky Los Angeleno forcibly relocated to Rhode Island and relinquished into her father's care. While exploring the nooks and crannies of her lonely new home, Sally awakens a long-dormant evil, and yada yada yada.
Where it isn't derivative, Nixey's film is asinine. Even the title makes no sense. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a movie that validates fear of the dark. The characters don't surmount their supernatural oppressors with courage; they fight them with light. That is, when they think to. Somebody ought to propose an "all lights all the time" policy in this house, because the amount of time spent fumbling for flashlights is entirely unnecessary.
Del Toro co-wrote the screenplay with Matthew Robbins, and there isn't a fresh idea between them. A thematically faithful remake of the 1973 TV movie of the same name, 2011's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is haunted by logical fallacies, dull stereotypes, and uninspired scare tactics. Has del Toro become so ensconced in his producorial duties that his writing has irrevocably lost its creative spark? I hope for The Hobbit's sake it hasn't.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is so uniformly sloppy, however, that no one person can shoulder the blame. The acting is subpar; I can't remember the last time I saw an entire cast deliver such a collectively mediocre performance. Whether fault lies with the actors themselves or the inexperienced director is debatable, but that the film suffers is undeniable.
If a paltry few circumstantially effective jump scares are your measure of success, then by all means plunk down your 11 bucks for Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. Just don't expect to be afraid. Every year we get a few great dramas, and one or two good comedy and action flicks. What gives? Why should horror have the lowest success ratio, and its fans the lowest standards? When was the last time a film genuinely scared you?
Audiences shouldn't settle for Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. Like a bad porno, we're left bored by its expository sequences in anticipation of the action. And then the action arrives and underwhelms. We can't even fast-forward. The whole dim, dumb movie is an exercise in textbook tedium, created as though by combining at random items from the approved horror glossary, 666th edition. Horror, like porn, leans on the believability of its flimsily constructed reality. When that spell is broken, it's only too apparent that you're staring at some guy's bare ass. In this case, del Toro's.