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Don't Be Afraid of the Dark


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Movie Review

Any time a black sedan rolls up to the ornate entrance of an eerie Gothic estate, it's a sure bet no good will come of it for the driver and his passengers.

Alex, said driver in this circumstance, is restoring the historic Rhode Island manor, hoping to revive his architectural career with help from his interior designer girlfriend, Kim. The couple's dynamics change a bit when Alex's ex-wife sends their daughter, Sally, to live with him and Kim in the mansion. The distant, troubled little girl is less than thrilled. Worse, she thinks neither of her parents love her. And Kim, in Sally's mind, is just an added insult to her injury.

Despite their awkward living arrangement, all three are entranced by the mansion's antique gardens, mahogany woodwork and air of mystery. What they don't know—and would have scrambled 3,000 miles away from if they had—is that the painstakingly refurbished property saw grave tragedy more than a century before. Celebrated naturalist and artist Emerson Blackwood once lived and worked at the estate. But he and his young child met with a ghastly end that could never be humanly explained, though Blackwood painted a telling mural of the scene in the basement, now appropriately walled off from the rest of the house.

When Alex, Kim and Sally discover the hidden basement, it's no surprise that the handyman, Mr. Harris, a grandson of Blackwood, gets a little jittery. And he repeatedly (repeatedly) warns them it's not safe for children to be in the house now that the secret's uncovered.

His words are so many raindrops on the roof as far as Alex is concerned. They have to be for this to remain a horror film. And of course Sally's instantly drawn to the same ash pit where disaster struck so long before. Curious when she hears ghostly Gollum-like whispers wafting from inside, she pries off the grate and …

Well, no one believes her when evil little goblin-like creatures start swarming around in her bedroom. So why should you believe me when I tell you that Hollywood horrormeisters still aren't done with shoving gremlins into movies?


Positive Elements

She's skeptical of her potential role as a stepmother, but Kim still reaches out to Sally and grows to care for her deeply. When Alex believes more sedatives and other medications are all his daughter needs to adjust, Kim challenges him to give Sally the benefit of the doubt and actually listen to the girl's horrifying concerns. Even if they can't see the creatures, she explains, Sally can, and that's all that matters. Gradually Kim builds a relationship with Sally, comforting her, encouraging her and earning her trust.

Ultimately, in the face of a terrifying and brutal attack by the hideous Halloween creatures, Kim puts her very life on the line for Sally.

Spiritual Content

The featured creatures, which we'll call micro-goblins from here on out, are age-old supernatural beings who, they say, must kill one human soul each time they come up to the surface for air, as it were. But we haven't seen much of them lately because 900 years ago they formed a pact with Pope Sylvester II. Still, they crave the teeth of children, we're told. So these ugly little creeps are essentially, and bizarrely, linked to the tooth fairy legends.

The souls of the micro-goblins' victims seem to join their ranks, so the question is begged whether they're all dead humans caught in some sort of twisted afterlife.

Sexual Content

Through a heating vent Sally can hear Kim and Alex starting foreplay in their bedroom. Kim wears a formfitting nightgown; she and Alex briefly kiss and cuddle in bed.

Violent Content

The micro-goblins use knives, scissors, ice picks, wires and the like to slice, gouge and otherwise incapacitate grown-ups. We see them swarm over people, poking, prying, cutting, biting, scratching, gashing and stabbing. A man emerges from the basement covered in blood with half a scissors sticking out of his shoulder. He yanks it out before falling in a heap on the floor. A woman's knee is sliced open and her legs and presumably spine broken when she's bent over double and sucked into a small hole.

The movie opens with its most grisly scene: Emerson takes a chisel and hammer to his screaming maid's mouth, knocking her out and dislodging her teeth. (We're spared only the moment of impact.) He then gathers her bloodied pearly whites and adds them to his own, which he's also violently removed, as a sacrifice to the micro-goblins.

Sally's besieged by the grabby, biting critters multiple times, and in the process manages to squash a couple of them. (We see the bloody remains of one.) Perhaps her creepiest skirmish with them is in the bathroom, where the micro-goblins tatter the shower curtain with a straight razor, trying to get to her.

Kim and a maid tumble violently down stairs after tripping over wires rigged by the micro-goblins. Both hit the floor hard and are knocked out. Alex is tripped as well, and he blacks out too when the back of his head connects with concrete. The monsters try to finish him off by starting his car in the closed garage.

Crude or Profane Language

The micro-goblins don't swear at all. Humans say "h‑‑‑" a couple of times and exclaim the Lord's name once.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Sally's ADHD medication is mentioned, and she's put on strong sedatives after seeing a psychiatrist. It's said that Alex's ex-wife is so drug happy that she needlessly medicated their dogs.

Other Negative Elements

We see Sally's head when she's in a bubble bath and her legs when she gets out.

Alex, a workaholic, is largely unconcerned with Sally's struggles. He's preoccupied with getting the estate on the cover of Architectural Digest, so he often chooses work over his daughter. And Sally's selfish mother, back in Los Angeles, is equally dismissive of the child. Sally subsequently lies to adults and disobeys orders not to go to the basement. When she can't take their mistrust anymore—not to mention the preternatural attacks—she runs away. (In her circumstances, that might be the wisest thing she does; as an imitable story element for others, it's not so hot.)


Almost 40 years ago, a then pre-tween Guillermo del Toro was unnerved by the 1973 television movie Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. The highly acclaimed writer/director/producer (most known for his work on the Hellboy movies and Pan's Labyrinth), produced and co-wrote this remake. He told ScreenPlay, "I saw [the original] movie as a kid and it was, for my generation, the scariest TV movie we ever saw. … It creeped out my whole family."

It creeped del Toro out so much that it reportedly became a significant influencer in his career. And his remake has enough supernatural ghoulishness in it—aided by smears of gore and blatant jump scenes—to make even an adult squirm for at least a few minutes. Scaring people, after all, is the sole purpose of this film. There's no plot to speak of. No logical connection points in the dialogue. No (intentional) humor. And no take away other than raised blood pressure.

It seems that sometimes childhood nostalgia should remain exactly that.

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Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

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Katie Holmes as Kim; Guy Pearce as Alex; Bailee Madison as Sally; Jack Thompson as Harris


Troy Nixey


Miramax Films



Record Label



In Theaters

August 26, 2011


January 3, 2012

Year Published



Meredith Whitmore

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