There are great movies, good movies, average movies, halfway decent movies, and movies you'll never forget -- no matter how hard you try. I am here to try to help you navigate through them, to help you choose your movies so you can spend your money (and your time) wisely.
And yes, these reviews are being copyrighted as they are written.
Don't Be Afraid of Watching Something Else
For reasons we never really get to know a little girl we really never get to know or care about gets sent to live with her not terribly supportive, workaholic architect dad and his designer/girlfriend in a big giant spooky house that turns out to have awful little mischievous and bloodthirsty CG creatures in the basement. Hilarity via predictability and narrative paltriness ensues.
"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" (2011)
directed by Troy Nixey
written by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins
starring Guy Peace, Katie Holmes, and Bailee Madison
How Is It?
To put not too fine a point on it, it's rather flat, all told. It's designed beautifully and looks great, but most of the story and script are rather tired. There are a few good bits here and there, but overall... it's generally a rather ineffective gimmick movie.
If Guy Pearce had enough screen time in it or if his character was terribly important, which you would think would have been the case, I could tell you how he did. He did alright as an archetype, the Career Success Oriented And Not Terribly Empathetic Father. Katie Holmes manages well as the Awkward Girlfriend/Surrogate Mother Who Doesn't Feel She's Ready To Be A Mother But Finally Finds The Strength When The Kid Is In Danger. To give credit where it's due, both did alright with the material they had to work with. The movie belonged to Bailee Madison, who played the Misunderstood And Terribly Socially Awkward But Allegedly Quite Bright Child, who was let down by two things. One was a woefully ordinary and overly long script for the story. The other was she couldn't carry it and didn't have any help in the effort, primarily from the script and direction.
Behind the Camera
The film looks great. The sets are very nice and lit and shot pretty well. The shots are well framed, and the movie has atmosphere. And the creatures look good. Troy Nixey's first feature length film looks good. It's just not got much in the way of substance, and it feels maybe like it's maybe twenty or thirty minutes too long. There is too much wandering in the dark, too much spotty lighting, too much emphasis on looking mysterious without there really being any mystery whatsoever. It's not so much a haunted house film as it is a mouse hunt, which is a real let down, and much of it has to do with the script.
The script is subpar. There. I said it. There's not enough story for its hour and a half, and the story that we get is, well, more than a bit hackneyed. It pains me to say this about a script by Guillermo del Toro, who is one of my favorite directors and storytellers and a true artist of the macabre, but the script, by and large, is just painfully below average. The characters are cardboard and not original, plain and simple. The scares, or what passes for them, come quite by the numbers and are for the most part visible from miles away. And the whole thing reeks of melodrama and fails to establish even an internal reality beyond "This is supposed to be scary." The script is the foundation, and it doesn't work well.
A very weak script in the hands of a novice director has the odds against it at the outset. "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" didn't beat the odds. The few good moments it had weren't enough to hold my attention as a viewer. Honestly, if I had not been watching it to review it, I would have switched it off before the thirty minute mark.
Not frightening. Dreadfully predictable. Characterless. Uninspiring. Not recommended.