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Don't Be Afraid of the Dark | reviews, news & interviews

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Katie Holmes takes on rogue tooth fairies in a del Toro-scripted horror

Jeepers creepers: Katie Holmes in 'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark'

Saying that seven-year-old Sally Hurst (Bailee Madison) is experiencing a nightmare childhood would be a whopping understatement. An anxious child, medicated into submission by her mother, she’s been sent to live with her father in a spooky mansion where tiny teeth-snatchers call to her from the shadows.

In Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, first-time director and comic-book artist Troy Nixey - working under the tutelage of fantasy maestro Guillermo del Toro, who produces and co-wrote the screenplay - weaves haunted-house horror with Grimm fairytales and adds an all-American heroine in Scientology bride Katie Holmes.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark begins with a deliciously grisly prologue which bodes alarmingly well (or horribly ill if you’re squeamish). We’re transported back to the 19th century to discover the fate of the house’s original owner, creepy wildlife painter Emerson Blackwood. It establishes a paranormal presence in the basement of this grand Rhode Island estate. Cut to the present day and troubled youngster Sally is learning to live with her father, Alex (Guy Pearce), and his uber-earnest new squeeze, Kim (Katie Holmes) as the pair renovate the aforementioned, afflicted Victorian mansion.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark isn’t going to be responsible for any new cases of nyctophobia

When the sinister voices which creep through the vents appeal to her by name (Ssssallliiieeeeee), the alienated little girl credulously responds and resourcefully sets about freeing the unseen critters from the chains of the ash pit. Unfortunately, these tiny tooth fairies - known as the Homunculi – are, you’ve guessed it, harbouring malevolent designs. And so Sally unwittingly unleashes terror on herself and her family and, when her father fails to recognise the telltale signs of an evil infestation, it falls to her rather unwicked (near) stepmother to save the day.

It’s a film which heavily sells itself on del Toro’s impeccable credentials; Cronos (1993), The Devil's Backbone (2001) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) are exemplary modern additions to the fantasy/horror genre. There’s plenty of ominous potential here (the hidden basement, a music box which casts shadows onto the wall) but under Nixey’s inexperienced helmsmanship it fails to sufficiently terrorise. The first-time director does, however, create a number of chilling, if unoriginal, set pieces and as a whole it’s a perfectly enjoyable frightener. Perversely, one of the film’s most successful moments – where Sally finds a critter at the foot of her bedsheet – actually formed the basis of the teaser trailer, yet to the film’s credit it’s a robust scare and familiarity barely diminishes the hair-raising impact.

The creatures themselves are beautifully designed, but once they’ve been fully revealed in lingering detail - nefarious antics aside - their hardly petrifying impishness bleeds the film dry of tension. Pearce, too, is under-utilised in a role which requires him mostly to be infuriatingly ineffectual, but an actor of his calibre is a welcome presence nevertheless. As for our more hands-on heroines, Katie Holmes has a moody look and nervous disposition that’s well suited to the horror genre and she creates a credible bond with her young near-doppelgänger Bailee Madison who, whilst not the most charismatic youngster, certainly convinces in the key scenes.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark isn’t going to be responsible for any new cases of nyctophobia, lacking true terror and sufficient horrible surprises, however, this story of mischievous creatures is diverting enough if you’re in the mood for some pre-Halloween, “old dark house” horror.

  • Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is on general release on Friday, 7 October

Watch the trailer to Don't Be Afraid of the Dark


Under Nixey’s inexperienced helmsmanship the film fails to sufficiently terrorise


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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