Film Review: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

With the intention of increasing night light sales, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark offers the traits of a vintage horror. In terms of creepiness, the film is pretty effective.

Sally is a young girl who is sent to live with her father and his partner in New England. Architect Alex and interior designer Kim intend to renovate the house they are working on. The property gives Sally ample opportunity to explore. However, it appears that Sally is not alone when she hears voices calling her name…

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is effective on a creepy level, rather than being all out terrifying. There are some jumpy moments in Troy Nixey’s film, but less so than a film such as Insidious. Instead, Don’t Be Afraid takes a different tact, opting for a more subtle, unsettled feel.

Loosely based on the 1973 television movie of the same name, Don’t Be Afraid features a screenplay by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins. The film treads a rather familiar narrative path; featuring a child who sees supernatural things while the adults think it is all in her mind. Nevertheless, the film does not head entirely in the direction one may think; there are a few small surprises.

Much of the film is concerned with Sally; the audience is often made to identify with her with the choice of camera angles. In this way Don’t Be Afraid is most effective. Viewers should be able to empathise with the fear felt by the little girl, as well as her frustration when no one believes her. The sequences that take place in Sally’s bedroom are particularly persuasive in conveying the childlike terror that the film preys upon.

Despite some scares, Don’t Be Afraid does not tap into childhood fears and anxieties quite as Joe Dante’s The Hole. Dante’s film had a power and effectiveness that is missing from Nixey’s production. However, the special effects in Don’t Be Afraid are excellent, and the location, set and lighting combine well to create an atmospheric film.

Bailee Madison is excellent as Sally. Her performance is integral to the success of the film, and she does a fantastic job. Katie Holmes is also good as Kim. Guy Pearce, meanwhile, does not get to show much range as Alex, which is a shame as he is such a talented actor.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark may disappoint those looking to be petrified, but it works well on a more subtle level.

10 Things To Be Grateful For In 2010

As with most years, 2010 has offered us the good, the bad and the ugly. The following is a highly subjective list of some of the best things to come out of cinema this year. Feel free to add your own entries in the comments below.

1. The Return Of Michael Keaton

Following appearances in such cinematic classics as First Daughter, Michael Keaton spent a number of years in the land successful wide releases forgot. That changed in 2010, with a memorable role voicing Ken in the hugely successful Toy Story 3, and scene-stealing as Captain Gene Mauch in The Other Guys. Although the latter was not exactly the film of the year, Keaton raised the bar with a fantastic comic performance reminiscent of his glory days. This served as a timely reminder of his charisma and aptitude for comedy in Night Shift and Beetlejuice among others. Welcome back, Mr Keaton!

2. Warner Bros Greenlit Inception

Despite its box office success, Inception is a film that has divided critics and audiences. Love it or hate it, we should all be grateful that the studio greenlit the big-budget production in the first place. Based on an original screenplay, Inception was a refuge from the barrage of sequels, remakes, spin-offs and adaptations. Inception was a blockbuster that was engaging yet accessible. For the film, Warner Bros expended the kind of marketing strategy usually reserved for pre-sold entities. Given the healthy box office returns, the gamble certainly paid off. Hopefully Inception‘s success will give more studios the confidence to follow suit.

3. Disney Released A Traditionally Animated Feature

The Princess and the Frog (released in February 2010 in the UK) marked the first hand-drawn animation film from Disney since 2004. The past five years have seen no shortage in animated films; however these have tended to be of the computer generated variety. While features such as Up look fantastic, there is something quintessentially Disney about The Princess and the Frog. The beautiful animation harks back to the golden age of the early and mid-nineties, when each year would see a now classic Disney animated feature. Only time will tell whether The Princess and the Frog will be appraised in the same way as films such as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. In the meantime, the film indicates at least some variety in Disney’s output.

4. Referencing The 1980s Is Still In Vogue

Certainly not a new trend for 2010, for a number of years now cinema has been harking back to the eighties. Be it long overdue sequels to 1980s hits (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), remakes or even choice of soundtrack, referencing that most magical of decades has been a fixture in Hollywood in recent years. 2010, however, may have pulled of a coup d’état with the gloriously nostalgic Hot Tub Time Machine. With an amazing soundtrack and a plethora of references to 1980s films, fashion and popular culture, Steve Pink’s film was the ultimate homage to the much-loved decade.

5. David Fincher Signed On To Direct A Film About Facebook

A film about the creation of social networking site Facebook sounded just about the most unappealing premise of the year. Interest was peaked when David Fincher was announced as director of the project in 2009, but many, like myself, remained unconvinced. All that changed when the film was released in October 2010. The Social Network was one of the most absorbing films of the year, brilliantly executed and visually handsome. A very welcome surprise.

6. Woody Allen Dusted Off A Script From The ’70s

Released in June 2010 in the UK, Whatever Works saw a return to form for prolific director Woody Allen. Based on his original script from the 1970s, Whatever Works featured all the hallmarks of a classic Allen feature; witty dialogue, well-written characters and the New York setting. The film served as a reminder of why Woody Allen is such a lauded filmmaker, and is reminiscent of some of his best-loved pictures of the 1970s and 1980s. Here’s hoping Allen has a few more scripts gathering dust in his attic.

7. Colin Firth Stepped Up His Game

A bastion of period drama and romantic comedies, in 2010 Colin Firth revealed his flair for more serious dramatic roles with two magnificent performances. Firth conveyed the aching tragedy of George in Tom Ford’s A Single Man (released in February 2010 in the UK), and was thoroughly convincing as George VI in The King’s Speech (screened at the London Film Festival in October 2010). Having won awards for A Single Man and already receiving nominations for The King’s Speech, these triumphs are almost enough for us to forget Mamma Mia. Almost.

8. Danny Boyle Produced One Of The Most Wince-Inducing Scenes In Film History

Collective squirming ensued in screenings throughout the world when Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours was released (screened at the London Film Festival in October 2010). Most viewers would have known what to expect, but the film excels in building tension right up until this point. The event itself was visceral enough to apparently induce vomiting and fainting amongst audience members. This may just have been good marketing, but what remains is one of the most memorable scenes of 2010.

9. The Bounty Hunter Was Released In March

Though it has faced some stiff competition, The Bounty Hunter was the worst film released this year. For an action comedy, The Bounty Hunter was painfully unfunny. Like a childhood trauma, time dulls the pain, although you never entirely forget.

10. Joe Dante Directed A ‘Family Horror’

The Hole (released September 2010 in the UK) may not be the greatest film of the year, but it was certainly one of the scariest. For a film with child protagonists and aimed at a family audience, the film was surprisingly frightening. The Hole played on the most primal of fears, which resulted in a film that was far more effective than many of the adult horrors released this year. Although The Hole has been rather overlooked in terms of critical acclaim, it is a must-see for horror aficionados.

Film Review: The Hole

Every film seems to get a 12A rating nowadays. If The Exorcist was released today, it would probably be rated 12A. Which may not be a ludicrous as it sounds, because The Hole is more frightening than The Exorcist. Strange but true, as the old television show of the same name informed us.

Teenager Dane and his younger brother Lucas discover a mysterious hole in the basement of their house, after moving to a new town. As the pair try to figure out the origins of the hole with their neighbour Julie, strange occurrences begin to take place…

Considering that the movie is aimed at a family audience and has child protagonists, The Hole is just about the scariest film of the year. What makes the frights so effective is the dependence on common fears. Whilst not every viewer will hold the same fears as the ones depicted, they are nonetheless universal enough that most can relate.

What heightens the tension in The Hole is the lack of authority figures. Whilst the boys live with their mother, she is frequently at work, and always out of the picture when supernatural incidents occur. Although on the one hand it is difficult to believe that Lucas or Dane will meet a grisly fate because of their ages and the nature of the film, on the other the brothers are put in pretty perilous situations.

Narrative-wise, The Hole offers nothing really original. It is quite typical of a supernatural, haunted-house style film. However, Joe Dante’s film excels in its execution of the chilling moments, which arise frequently. Like some of the best supernatural horror films, The Hole plays on the principle that it is the unknown that is most frightening. Therefore it is the scenes that suggest supernatural activity (through camera work, sound and editing), but show very little that are most potent. There is a real tension generated throughout the film, one that is only let down by the very last segment.

The performances of the cast are good overall. Chris Massoglia and Nathan Gamble at times seem to show a lack of apprehension at circumstances, but perhaps this is intentional given the target audience. Javier Navarrete’s score is highly effective; sound in this film goes a long way to generate tension. The art direction of the climax is pleasing, even if the scene itself is lacklustre compared to what precedes it.

The Hole is a film that should satisfy adult horror fans, despite being marketed at a family demographic. Take the kids; it will be character building for them.