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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (Blu-ray Review)

It’s been about three years or so since Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark began principle photography. All was fun and games until Miramax was bought out by Disney and several films in the Miramax slate were shelved. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was one of these films. At long last the film saw a wide release a few months ago, through different distributors, and we now have the latest Guillermo Del Toro produced picture on Blu-ray. Yes, it so happens that this version of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is also a remake of a cult horror favorite. Since Guillermo Del Toro is spearheading the project, it can only be good, right? Don’t be afraid of this review and come on in…  

Film 

And here we…go. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is the latest film produced and co-written by Guillermo Del Toro based off of the previously released 1973 television movie of the same name. Architect Alex Hurst (Guy Pearce) along with his younger new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) set off to restore their new (old) Gothic mansion. Alex’s daughter Sally (Bailee Madison) is the newest addition to the family, because Sally’s mother has sent her off to live with her father on a more “permanent” basis.

That’s where the drama begins, because as you can see Kim is sort of young enough to be Alex’s daughter, and now she will be the unofficial stepmother to Sally. Sally, in the meantime, is very distant and spends her time exploring the old house in addition to talking to the mysterious voices from within the walls of her room.

Alex spends his time trying to do his job as an architect and as a father, but continues to meet resistance from Sally. It’s not until our mysterious visitors make their presence known that the entire family unit of three have to put their differences aside in order to survive against these dark forces.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for anything involving Guillermo Del Toro (and Guy Pearce), and this film is no exception. First time feature film director Troy Nixey was handpicked by Del Toro to take the helm of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark based off of a short film of Nixey’s that Del Toro really liked. Nixey is more than competent behind the camera, but the film does not get by unscathed, unfortunately.

You know this has monsters, right? In addition to the marketing, the creatures themselves were the second biggest complaint against the film. Granted, the marketing made the film seem like it was gonna be a scary tour-de-force, but only succeeded in being creepy as hell instead. Creepy is not scary, in my opinion. Secondly, the creatures themselves were, without spoiling it, height challenged. I guess short beings of darkness cannot convey terror like a full grown beast can. Depends on who you ask, I guess. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark works as a stylish atmosphere piece, but suffers as a full blown horror film. As always, I did appreciate Del Toro’s feminist touches to the material. He’s got a solid record for making females extremely strong and resilient. You can see that in every one of his films even the ones that he hasn’t directed . No exception  here.

I would also say that Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark works as a Grimm fairytale of sorts. I really wish that it had been sold as one instead of a terror film. It would have been seen by many more people, I think. Bailee Madison is the standout of the entire cast. She brings a sad frame to the only child in a broken home scenario. Guy Pearce is cool, too,  and Katie Holmes isn’t annoying. I dug the cast.

In retrospect, what would have made the the film “scarier” would have been to make the creatures human sized. All bets would have been off. Then again, if they would have done it that way, it could not have been told  from Sally’s point of view. It wouldn’t have served her character. See, there’s no pleasing some people! 😉

Video 

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is presented in 1080p, 1.85:1, widescreen. I am happy to report that Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a sumptuous feast for the eyes on Blu-ray. It’s a Gothic sepia toned affair, and the Blu-ray really shines in the dark-indoor scenes. Lush low light keeps things nice and warm, and you all know how I feel about low light. Flesh tones remain natural and balanced even in the nippy cold. Grain is kept in check, but is of the natural variety, and sharpness levels are great. Softness does creep in here and there, but it remains checked. The video on this Blu-ray is stellar. I like.

Audio 

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1. You know for a Guillermo Del Toro produced film the studios are gonna give you your money’s worth in terms of the sonics, and they do not disappoint. With the minor exception of the crass shrieking of the creatures, the sound levels for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark are near reference. Dialogue is clean and crisp, even the low whispers of dread can be heard seeping out of the cold dank walls. Watch out for those rear surrounds, because they will grab you if you’re not careful. 😉

Special Features 

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark skimps on the special features. We don’t even get a trademark Guillermo Del Toro commentary track let alone a director’s commentary track. Not cool. What we do get is a featurette that is split into three categories and a conceptual art gallery. I doubt that they’re saving all the good stuff for a super duper ultimate release which makes what is included on this Blu-ray all that more disappointing.

Don’t Be Afraid… Three-Part Making-Of Documentary:

  • The Story
  • Blackwood’s Mansion
  • The Creatures
  • Conceptual Art Gallery


Final Thoughts 

What can I say? It’s all in the marketing and they dropped the ball with that. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is not “scary” per se, but is creepy as all hell. There’s a difference, but I don’t think creepy sells as best as scary, so I can almost see why they went that route in marketing the film the way they did. It’s a technically decent film, and the Blu-ray specs with regards to video and audio are sublime. The special features drag the overall grade down into the cellar, though. That’s very unfortunate. If you’re a Guillermo Del Toro fan then YOU NEED this. If you’re a casual observer and want to see what all the fuss is about then it’s a solid rental.

 

Order Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark on Blu-ray!

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Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

4 Responses to “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Nice read, dull film.

  2. Brian White

    I feel the same as Aaron. It’s an O movie, but nothing to write home about. You are right G. There was confusion on how to market this. Much like The Adjustment Bureau I went into this thinking I was getting involved in something fantastic, only to discover I was about to be exposed to a completely different world that did not match my expectations.

  3. Aaron Neuwirth

    Didn’t seem like marketing confusion, just seemed like a bad movie getting decent marketing to draw people in…

  4. Gerard Iribe

    No, it was bad marketing, because the film is good, it’s just not scary.