Don't Be Afraid of the Dark -- Film Review

A  well-made, scary twist on the Tooth Fairy fable that will extract solid worldwide box-office. 

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — Kids love the the Tooth Fairy for placing a goodly piece of coin under their pillows in exchange for their newly lost baby tooth. The Tooth Fairies in this dark horror fable, "Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark," are a greedier bunch –- they want those teeth before they fall out, and will do anything to get them.

These furious fairies will surely deliver a goodly piece of box-office coin for the distributor of this well-wrought film that has been shuttled and temporarily shelved in the wake of the Miramax sale. A well-crafted genre piece, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark won appreciative reception here at the Virginia Film Festival. The R-rated film should have a solid appeal to teens and young adults.

A surprising departure into the horror world for producer Mark Johnson, who teams with Guillermo del Toro to produce, the film stars Guy Pearce and Katie Holmesas a modern couple who are restoring an historic mansion with hopes of a big flip and a cover on Architectural Digest.

Their relationship is, not surprisingly, more than a mere professional relationship, and their connubial bliss is upset with the arrival of Pearce's young daughter (Bailee Madison). Alas, it's a troubling threesome as the impressionable girl feels abandoned and unwanted, shuttled off by her self-absorbed mother to her work-workaholic father. And, girlfriend/colleague Holmes is right in the middle, squashed by the child's resentment and confounded by her own churning relationship.

Smartly blending a troubled family dynamic within genre entertainment, screenwriters Del Toro and Matthew Robbins have twisted the standard Fairy Tooth table into a hair-raising yarn. Viewers will detect some thematic fantasy-world resemblances to Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. (This script long languished on Miramax shelves before its recent re-discovery and resuscitation). Despite minor continuity glitches, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is propelled by character-driven forces, which churn up its unseen fantastic evils.

Overall, Dark works because the three main characters are sympathetic and the fractured family relationship triggers the ferocious fairies to wreak their terror. Holmes is winningly sympathetic as the woman caught in the middle, while Pearce layers his character's manipulative behavior with a center of decency. Madison as the beleaguered child is terrific, sensitive and saucy and just the type of tyke who can release the forces of nature, both good and evil.

First-time director Troy Nixey has concocted a pulsating blend of a vile other-world and the everyday, forcing us to regard everyday objects and behavior as malicious. With cinematographer Oliver Stapleton's keen scopings, we see the dark underside to what seems innocent and benign.

Similarly, production designer Roger Ford has garnished the haunted olde manse with a handsome and deadly array of objets de cruelty and fueled our minds with all sorts of horrifying potentialities. Composers Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders' rich score, with bright clouds of carefree woodwinds coarsened by cold thrashing strings, chills our spines.
Production companies:  Gran Via, Tequila Gang
Cast: Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Bailee Madison, Alan Dale, Julia Blake, Jack Thompson, Eliza Taylor-Cotter
Director: Troy Nixey. Screenwriters: Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins
Producers: Mark Johnson, Guillermo del Toro
Executive producers: William Horberg, Stephen Jones
Director of photography: Oliver Stapleton
Production designer:  Roger Ford
Music: Marco Beltrami, Buck Sanders
Editor: Jill Bilcock
Costume designer: Wendy Chuck
Sales: Miramax.
Rated R, 99 minutes