FILM REVIEW: Don’t be Afraid of the Dark (15)

As children, the dark exerts a powerful hold over our nightmares.

The sound of a rattling pipe or creaking floorboard is magnified by febrile, young imaginations into omens of impending doom.

With age comes the realisation that there aren’t monsters underneath the bed, and even if there were, they cannot penetrate the protective shield of a duvet (keep your extremities covered at all times and you’re completely safe.)

Mexican film-maker Guillermo del Toro has explored childhood fears brilliantly in his work, from the ghosts of the past that haunt The Devil’s Backbone to the horrors of the imaginary in Pan’s Labyrinth.

His fingerprints are all over this slick remake of a 1973 telefilm, which del Toro has co-written with Matthew Robbins as a directorial debut for comics artist Troy Nixey.

While the original version centred on a neurotic wife, teetering on the brink of insanity, this reworking of Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is glimpsed through the eyes of a nine-year-old girl at the mercy of creatures that live in a spooky house.

Technological advances allow Nixey to showcase these demonic denizens close-up and sensibly he holds back the big reveal.

Unfortunately, what we imagine lurking in the inky black is far scarier than anything the special effects team conjures here and once the fanged fiends emerge from their hiding places, we become convinced that a pest controller would be the simplest course of action to bring proceedings to a swift conclusion.

Naturally, the film-makers have other ideas involving a genuinely terrifying sequence of the little girl discovering one of the monsters under her bedclothes.

Sally Hurst (Bailee Madison) is sent to live with her architect father Alex (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend, interior decorator Kim (Katie Holmes), at the Gothic mansion they are restoring.

Despite the grim warnings of caretaker Mr Harris (Jack Thompson), who knows all about the goblin-like creatures in the basement, the Hursts foolishly move a fireplace grate, thereby unleashing the pint-sized horrors upon poor Sally.

At first, Alex ignores his child’s pleas and finds other explanations for Kim’s ripped clothes.

But when the menace intensifies, Sally finds an unlikely ally in her pretty stepmother-to-be.

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is handsomely crafted and Nixey demonstrates flair behind the camera.

He has the eye for detail of an artist but regrettably not yet the steely nerves of a horror film-maker because there is an absence of creeping dread.

Madison brings emotional depth to her role and she galvanises pleasing screen chemistry with Holmes.

However, Pearce is woefully underused and the carelessness with which his character addresses the daughter’s deteriorating mental state borders on the laughable.

Despite a handful of effectively engineered shocks, you won’t be afraid of the dark.

Review by Damon Smith

:: NO SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 5/10

Released: October 7 (UK & Ireland), 99 mins