After a fair amount of pre release excitement Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark came and went with a bit of a shrug. Sometimes the reactions that films get baffles me. Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark may not reinvent the wheel, but it is a creepy little sleeper that generates a good amount of unease and at a time when horror becomes more and more generic it has a voice of its own.
That voice is of course Guillmero Del Toro’s, though he only co-wrote and produced the film it contains all his hallmarks. The collision between folklore and modern life, the bonds between children and surrogate parents and the instability of and inherent pleasures and miseries of childhood. Really what it maintains from Del Toro’s work is its philosophy. Most filmmakers approach the supernatural with fear, Del Toro approaches it with a kind of awe a distinction that gives even his lesser films a very real power.
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark follows a little girl who moves into the house her father and his new fiancé are renovating. As shown in a prologue the house can be a bad place for children and after a sealed off chamber is discovered, things begin to contact the little girl. It’s classic horror as metaphor stuff, with the anxieties of new family life neatly dovetailing with the anxieties of discovering that a race of creatures forgotten by time and the good people of the earth are now living in a burrow under your house. But the ingenious thing about Del Toro’s script is the way he taps into the richer vein of folklore beneath the metaphor. If you follow any subtext long enough, eventually it just becomes text again.
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark first gained notoriety when the MPAA refused to give the film a PG-13 and then explicitly requested that Del Toro not recut in an attempt to get the rating. Frankly it’s a little tough to understand what all the fuss is about. This is after all a film which, past its prolouge cannot even be said to have a body count. There’s only one shot in the movie that screams “R” (a nasty leg break) and it’s seems as if it could have been omitted easily enough with a judicious leg break. Don’t get me wrong, there are some nasty implications in the film, the prologue in particular contains a truly stomach churning moment and the scene where the handy man is attacked is probably the most intense I’ve sat through in a horror film this year. But it’s all implications, editing, and some extremely well done sound design. There’s a very nasty edge to the mayhem present in Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark. Like the eldritch creatures who populate it, its not afraid to bite.
All in all I’d say that Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is the best horror film released by a major studio this year (which might not be saying much but is saying something)