It's highly unlikely you'll be afraid of anything during this mundane horror flick, which fails to offer anything more than a couple of minor jolts. A generic script doesn't bring anything new to the 'family move into creepy house' premise, leaving stars Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce to do little more than amble around looking confused. Perhaps they were expecting more from a project with Guillermo del Toro's name attached to it? They wouldn't be alone on that front.
The story, based on the cult 1973 TV movie, kicks off with a grisly sequence set in the basement of a remote mansion, involving a tooth extraction with the help of a chisel and hammer. Its power to shock is probably undermined by the fact that you can receive much worse dentistry via the NHS these days. The action then jumps forward many decades to the present day, where Alex (Pearce), his girlfriend Kim (Holmes) and his perturbed young daughter Sally (Bailee Madison) move into that very house.
An evil force is lurking within the basement, in the form of CGI creatures that are basically an uninspired cross between Gollum and Gremlins - they're even afraid of bright lights. Sally endures various visitations by these monsters, but her guardians believe that she is telling tales and is responsible for the increasing damage in the house. Can she convince them to believe her before all hell breaks loose?
The main problem with Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark is that audiences in 2011 are very clued up on the way thrills are orchestrated and the manner in which conventional scary movie plots unfold. After all, the postmodernist escapades of Scream were 15 years ago now, and forced horror filmmakers and writers to work harder on a creative level if they wanted to effectively tell a straight story without tongue in cheek.
Unfortunately, the storyline is lacking in incident and unfolds in such a languid and repetitive manner that it places a huge burden on director Troy Nixey. Yet his by-the-numbers approach does little to generate the atmospherics that are needed when the action takes place primarily within one location. At least Marco Beltrami's score hits the right note, instilling a foreboding sense of dread at various junctures.
Amidst the mediocrity, the performance of young actress Bailee Madison is the movie's undoubted highlight. She is utterly convincing in portraying both the deep-rooted unhappiness of a child struggling with the break-up of her parents and the terror of someone subjected to an onslaught of vicious CGI beasties. Much like Dakota Fanning several years ago, Madison is one to watch for the future.
A mostly pointless affair, Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark offers nothing new to the genre and is sorely lacking the directorial vision, sense of mystery and aesthetic dynamism that del Toro has brought to the projects he has helmed.