Thursday, September 1, 2011

Film Review: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)
Rated: R
Running Time: 99 min
Genres: Horror | Thriller

Bruce Gleeson as Buggy Driver (Our Buggy Driver)
Edwina Ritchard as Housekeeper (Our Helpful Extra)
Garry McDonald as Blackwood (No Good Local Crazy, Deceased)
Bailee Madison as Sally (Our Heroine)
Katie Holmes as Kim (Our Hero's New Girlfriend/Wife)
Guy Pearce as Alex (Our Hero)
Carolyn Shakespeare-Allen as Airport Cart Driver
Jack Thompson as HarrisJulia Blake as Mrs. Underhill
David Tocci as Workman
Lance Drisdale as Policeman
Nicholas Bell as Psychiatrist
Libby Gott as Nurse
James Mackay as Librarian
Emelia Burns as Caterer
...and a host of others, all of whom should have been killed off but none of whom were.

This is one of the good old straightforward horror movies, no more, no less.  People do stupid stuff like split up and investigate on their own, the monsters are good performers and the grand finale is fairly predictable.  That doesn't make for a bad film; it just doesn't make a new, innovative and interesting film. Still, the film has some good scenes, it manages to build suspense in all the right places and the pacing is good. Here's the good and the bad, without spoilers.

The good news is that the set is great.  The house is just the place to stage a big fight between the Allies and the Huns, and a lot of furniture gets torn up, glass fixtures are busted up all over the place... well, what do you expect?  Supernatural battles tend to be hard on the furnishings.  Still, there's no structural damage which means that the sequel is probably being produced even as you read this.  More good news is that the premise for the film is good, and the monsters are pretty well thought out.  Bullets will definitely stop these monsters, as will blunt force trauma.  Bright light slows them down considerably.  Since the monsters have definite limitations, they have to be sneaky about just how and when they attack.  This makes for a good film, as there are few things as bad as an invulnerable monster that fails to just wade in and destroy everything in sight - kind of like Godzilla performing a little urban renewal on downtown Tokyo.  Did Godzilla fool around, popping up here and there and playing hide and seek with the victims?  No!  But then Godzilla is deuced hard to deal with, and these monsters are not.  Or at least they shouldn't be.

The victims are a nine year old girl that got put on a plane by her mother to go spend time with her father so that her mother could get on with life after divorce.  Dad's girl friend isn't all that thrilled about the new addition to the home.  Dad has mixed feelings as well, being an architect in the middle of a big project.  All three people are neurotic with extra baggage, and the kid is on medication.  Okay so far?  Okay.  Then the film breaks down.

Your typical horror movie begins with a warning that anyone who is even close to being in their right mind would never ignore.  In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre our victims stop for gas somewhere in Ohio Texas and are warned off by the gas station attendant.  They ignore that warning along with a few others and predictably they all get buzzed up with a chainsaw.  The same sort of thing is true in this film, except in most horror films (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) the victims are all fairly dumb right out of the box.  That isn't the case here, as all the victims are introduced as being fairly intelligent, educated and talented people, albeit fashionably disturbed, and all behave in an otherwise reasonable manner.  About a third of the way into the film some malcontent noticed that the lead characters would never do the things they're doing and tried to splice in a few scenes to lead up to the series of irrational decisions that get people killed.  It doesn't work.  Case in point, poor Katie Holmes (Kim) gets stuck playing a whole host of scenes that make a such good case for multiple personality disorder that she'd keep Adler, Ainsworth and Piaget in billable hours for three years.  The others don't fair any better, and neither does the film.

As usual, no one thinks to bring a shotgun.  Now, given what I learned about the monsters in ten minutes, it would seem that someone would think to produce a firearm of some sort and cut loose.  Nope.  No chance.  Too bad, too, because the film could have developed into a rip roaring good time and the Allies might have won one for a change.  But no, no... that would somehow spoil everything.  Even a nice terrier would have made a huge difference, but then where's the suspense?  Or something.  By the time someone thinks to pick up a shovel and use it in it's secondary office, the film is mostly over with.

Like I said earlier, in spite of the inconsistencies (and I really haven't begun to list them all) the film is entertaining.  It has some very suspenseful scenes, but these scenes have to be taken on their own without accounting for the characters as we know them.  The set is great, and the acting isn't bad.  I rate this one as a 6 out of 10 on Mad Jack's Scale of Screen Excellence.  It's worth the price of a matinee, but if you wait for the DVD you'll be getting a better deal.

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