Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a solid creature feature in the vein of the’80s puppet movies, even though it’s probably all CGI. The atmosphere and monsters have a Guillermo del Toro vibe, even though he only produced it and Troy Nixey directed it.
Little Sally Hirst (Bailey Madison) has to go live with her dad Alex (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) in the scary house they’re restoring. We know from the prologue that Emerson Blackwood (Garry McDonald) used to hide in the basement ripping out victims’ teeth to feed the creatures that whisper to him. So it’s going to be rough for Sally.
The plot structure is basic and effective. Sally starts hearing the whispers and the creatures leave gifts for her, but then they start ripping Kim’s clothes and making trouble. Of course the grown-ups don’t believe her. Actually, it’s Alex who’s so obsessed with making the cover of Architecture Digest that he tries to micromanage Sally into behaving. Kim seems sympathetic, at least that Sally should get some sensitive attention, if not totally buying into the creatures.
Nixey does the creature tease well with glimpses, keeping the creatures hidden but present enough that they’re part of the movie. Alex sticks his ears so close he almost gets nicked, but that’s just a joke. Seeing the creatures in shadow from Sally’s foot level is cute and whimsical.
The creatures attack with deft skill though. You definitely get your money’s worth in several scenes of full on little armies stabbing and grabbing the groundskeeper and embarrassing Alex at his dinner party. Those are great sequences.
The only distracting aspect of the film is an apparent anti-psychiatry bent. Sally’s mom has her on Aderol and Alex’s psychiatrist friend wants to prescribe more for Sally. It may be effective to set a monster movie in the world of obtuse adults, but when you cast the wife of the most vocal spokesperson against prescription medication, it can’t help but feel like an agenda. And it was probably only meant to show that the grown-ups don’t get Sally, but that’s where my mind goes.
I like seeing a creature movie where the creatures interact with the world. Horror movies don’t scare me so I have to appreciate them on a different level. I don’t know if Dark will scare you but it’s entertaining and creative.