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Movie review

Only Guillermo del Toro can pitch a movie by saying, “Okay, this is a horror movie starring Katie Holmes about little ghostly monsters that want to eat children’s teeth,” and walk away with a green light.

The film opens gruesomely, as the creepy Mr. Blackwood takes a hammer and a chisel to his housekeeper’s face, collecting her teeth to give to the monsters that live beneath his basement. Apparently, these little Gollum-sounding ghouls are not very happy about getting an adult woman’s teeth. It turns out that they crave the teeth of small children.

Flash forward a century or so later to present day. Now, living in this very house, are Alex and Kim (portrayed by Guy Pierce and Katie Holmes), and Alex’s daughter from a previous marriage Sally (played by the precocious Bailee Madison). There’s the standard “daughter wants nothing to do with new step-mother” sub-plot, which sets up the “lonely girl befriends the scary monsters” sub-plot.

The main problem with the movie is that the monsters are not very scary. They have attributes of both ghosts and of physical monsters. They are shown far too often, and when you see them, they look like little eight-legged bats. The key element to any good ghost story is a to keep a sense of mystery, and that element is completely missing. We see these little lobsters every few scenes, and they are almost more cuddly than they are frightening. Well, maybe not quite, but the “Don’t Show the Shark” rule is ignored, to the detriment of the final product.

Although there’s nothing terribly compelling about the Guy Pierce/Katie Holmes relationship, the relationship between Katie Holmes and Bailee Madison is actually quite interesting. This relationship really becomes the heart of the story, as Sally starts to care for Kim. There’s a scene in the movie in which Kim finds several of her dresses torn to shreds, and she thinks that Sally did it. When Kim and Alex confront Sally about it, she starts balling, shouting that she did not do it. It is actually a surprisingly touching scene, because prior to this moment, Sally was just starting to warm up to Kim. The audience finally feels some sort of emotion towards these characters, hoping that this misunderstanding will be cleared up, so that the upward trajectory of their relationship can be continued.

Despite some nice character elements and a few light scares, when compared to some of del Toro’s other films, this one just feels a little empty. Although he did not direct it (he passed the torch to first-timer Troy Nixey), he did write it and produce it, and while his stampan be felt, it simply is not enough. Pan’s Labyrinth and even the less popular but equally enthralling The Orphanage are much better films, with much deeper themes.

Unfortunately for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, there aren’t enough scares, there are virtually zero laughs, and the ending is just not clever enough for this type of story. Although Guy Pierce is good as work-obsessed father Alex, his character leaves him little to work with. Is this an awful movie? Not by any means. Is it worth spending $12 in the theater? Go ahead and wait for Netflix.

Movie Review by Mike Danner