"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" (FilmDistrict) has so little to commend it—even as a conventional horror film—that it might as well be titled "You Won't Be Afraid of This Movie."
With only one real fright—generated by the initial appearance of a cluster of tiny, angry goblins living in a basement furnace—this staid and stale remake of the 1973 made-for TV film offers equally little fodder for moral discussion.
About the closest thing to dialogue it might inspire would be viewers shouting at the characters on screen, "How can you people be so dumb?"
It appears that the filmmakers pushed for an R rating to give their project some credibility with fans of gore. But surprisingly, and happily, there's little of that to be seen.
As directed by Troy Nixey and written by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins, this version adds a sad and troubled child to the earlier film's haunted-house mix. That's Sally (Bailee Madison), the daughter of ambitious, divorced architect Alex (Guy Pearce).
Together with his new live-in girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes), Alex is restoring a brick Tudor mansion in Providence, R.I., with the aim of showcasing it in Architectural Digest and launching his career into the big time.
The house had been owned by famed artist Emerson Blackwood (Garry McDonald) whose life, along with that of his young son, came to a mysterious end in the manse. Sally's not thrilled about staying there since she realizes that her mother has abandoned her, and since she's by no means keen on Kim. Plus, it's autumn and the place is gloomy both inside and out.
Spooky high jinks ensue, logic flies out every available fenestration, and soon there are demons in the ductwork. Sally finds the sealed-off basement, is lured to the furnace, lets out the goblins and tries to befriend them. By then, the only remaining question is: Who's going to get pulled to the lower depths?
On a library visit to investigate Blackwood, Kim learns that the critters need humans to restore their ranks (though how, exactly, this works is never explained), and that they also had some dealings with Pope Sylvester II way back in the late 10th, early 11th century.
Open your church history textbooks and you'll discover that this is an ancient canard. The pontiff in question—an energetic advocate of church reform and the first Frenchman to occupy the chair of Peter—had a number of talents, including a gift for mathematics. He is credited not only with the introduction of Arabic numerals into Western math but also as the inventor of the pendulum clock.
Sylvester, however, was so fast with his abacus—a device he is also said to have reintroduced to Europe—that the more superstitious members of his flock murmured that he was in league with Satan.
For this, poor man, he gets smeared in a bad horror movie more than a millennium after his death.
The film contains intense action scenes with a bit of gore, cohabitation and fleeting profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Kurt Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
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