Another late summer picture drawn from a 1973 telefilm (with its title possibly lifted from the musical Carousel) has the backing of Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy) who assisted on the script. What results is a gussied-up, conventional reworking of the haunted house tale.
The context of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark fits into the standpoint of an impressionable prepubescent reticent girl Sally (Bailee Madison) who is remanded with her career-driven architect dad Alex Hurst (Guy Pearce of The King's Speech and the absorbing Animal Kingdom) after a somewhat unnerving start.
Clearly, as they, along with Alex's new love interest Kim (Katie Holmes) head to an arcane, if striking place in need of restoration, Sally yearns to be back with her mother (who is only heard).
A recent picture from this same rookie studio (Insidious) had some fun with tried-and-true elements of the genre before a somewhat shaky resolution. This time an unhappy, but curious Sally begins to hear (or is greeted by) whispering raspy voices at night while checking out the expansive estate inhabited by one Emerson Blackwood and his son a century ago.
Like del Toro's much more proficient Pan's Labyrinth, Sally welcomes (and unlocks) the gates where dangerous, speedy creatures have existed. The story insinuates the connection between this underworld connection through groundskeeper Mr. Harris (Jack Thompson) who finds himself at their mercy.
An ominous, macabre atmosphere is maintained fairly well by the filmmakers as a vigilant Sally is blamed for what is starting to happen in the house (especially her father). More about a spooky site is uncovered through a little investigating with those clawing, leery worst of the bunch hanging around the boiler area.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark works deliberately to a high point where its rating is safely substantiated (especially for responsible adults and guardians accompanying unassuming kids), as del Toro lets his crew display their technical panache (from designing to creature effects) to noticeable effect.
Nevertheless, despite some crucial interplay between a spritely Madison (Just Go With It, Conviction) and Holmes (her last major role was in the mediocre Mad Money), the characters, especially a pallid Pearce, are too subservient to a storyline that just doesn't match its long-forgotten predecessor in non-showy, perfidious thrills.
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