Sally, a young girl, moves to Rhode Island to live with her father and his new girlfriend in the 19th-century mansion they are restoring. While exploring the house, Sally starts to hear voices coming from creatures in the basement whose hidden agenda is to claim her as one of their own.
Fondly remembered for scaring the Tab out of impressionable viewers, 1973’s television movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark stands today as a minor classic of irrational dream-logic horror, with an ending that goes straight for the worst-case scenario. Despite (or perhaps because of) its wonky effects, minimalist character development, and snicker-worthy Freudisms, it knows how to linger into the wee small hours. Cowriter-producer Guillermo del Toro’s mash note of a remake is a superior movie in virtually all aspects, really, yet it somehow fails to ping the same whimpering neurons. Director Troy Nixey’s film follows the same basic blueprint as the source material–a fractured family (Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, and Bailee Madison) moves into a dark old house, only to be tormented by a gaggle of tiny chatterbox demons–but with a much greater emphasis on the mythology and back story of the creatures. Del Toro has long proclaimed his love for the original movie, and it’s rather fascinating to see the filmmaker attempt to shoehorn his own trademark obsessions (grim fairy-tale origins, spooky little girls, odd Lovecraftian angles, etc.) into the existing material. Still, such Gothic curlicues, however nifty, ultimately end up diluting the solid-state nightmare fuel of the premise. Aside from a few solid shocks and a strong performance by Holmes, this heartfelt redo is unlikely to have the same lasting effect on audiences as the much cruder original. Instead of focusing on the hows and whys, that one just wanted to freak the viewer out. –Andrew Wright