Don’t Be Afraid of del Toro

Katrina Simyab, Clarion Staff Writer

Guillermo del Toro is a master director. In his most recent project, del Toro turns over the directing reigns to Troy Nixey, a first time motion picture director, and instead focused on writing the screenplay.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is a great “Americanized” version of one of his classic tales.  This film is a remake of a 1973 ABC made-for-television horror film of the same name. It contains many elements that are characteristics of del Toro’s style.

The film storyline starts out a bit like Pan’s “Labyrinth” did, with a young girl, named Sally (Bailee Madison). Sally comes to live in a mansion that her divorced father (Guy Pearce) is restoring with his new girlfriend (Katie Holmes). As the story progresses, Sally starts to hear and see things that nobody else can. When she tries to point them out to adults, they don’t believe her.

Much of the build up to the main part of the film would have been quite boring if it weren’t for the fact that del Toro did not disappoint with scene after scene of stunning visuals. Del Toro prefers to create shots in what is called “Deep Focus.” It makes everything on the screen appear crisp and saturated. It was enjoyable to see the beautiful forests and other aspects of Sally’s world so clearly. In some cases, this was more interesting the story itself.

This film also had some great elements of folklore. This is another one of Guillermo’s favorite topics. The story includes mentions of “fairy circles,” and the actual “monsters” in this film are popular creatures of fairy tale legend. This does not make the film seem child-like. Rather, it creates a sort of “magical” element.

The story of this movie seems to lean more towards suspense, rather then horror. There were only a few moments that could be seen as “scary.” The worst of them occurs only 10 minutes into the film, even before the opening titles roll. Moviegoers who love crazy blood and gore or scared senseless horror might find ‘Don’t be Afraid’ a bit mild.

One downside to the movie is that it was very badly cast. Del Toro usually prefers to cast unknowns in most of his movies. To make the film more popular with an American audience, some “well-known” stars were cast. This affected the plotline with negative results. The young girl playing Sally was believable enough, but her father and her father’s girlfriend, played by Pearce and Holmes, were terrible.

It was obvious from the beginning that Holmes was brought into the film for her “star quality” and not because she was a talented actress. Pearce, on the other hand, has a string of popular films under his belt such as Memento, The Hurt Locker, and The King’s Speech. That’s why it was so surprising when he came off as a “very distant” and “un-believable” father figure in this film. There were a few scenes in particular that were completely cringe-worthy when it came to the acting. At times, it took away from the story.

A common element in many foreign films, the conclusion to this story is not a happy one. To those who are content with a typical American “boy gets girl, everyone wins” type ending, this film may be a bit unsatisfying.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is a less complex version of some of del Toro’s former work. His complex story lines and stunning visuals will always be mind-boggling. They stand out even when paired with some bad acting.