Monday, September 10, 2012

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark - A Review

Folklore and tradition are often tragically neglected in modern horror and fantasy films. Failure to touch back on such important sources for these genres displays a foolish confidence in the potential of a creator's "new" idea (though typically it's a mere rehash) or just a general ignorance, through which the work inevitably suffers. I'd liken this issue to crafting a Golem without the necessary symbols of life necessary to animate it or simply leaving the brain out of the homunculus. What you have is an ineffective, incomplete concept without the essential vital spark. The horror-fantasy film Don't Be Afraid of the Dark not only succeeds where others have failed by wonderfully honoring the classical elements, it also grounds the key aspects of the old stories in the modern times in such a masterful way.

We the audience are introduced to a manor house, its dark history, and the little girl through which we're granted sight into the magical world of the mostly unseen. In the depths of the Earth beneath the manor, in which the girl, her father, and his girlfriend reside, lives a hidden race of diminutive creatures which have plagued the grounds since the original owner stalked them in fear for his own sanity and life. Through the protagonist, young Sally Hurst, we're exposed to a form of the classical "little people" who turn out not to be the "fair folk" romanticized in Victorian literature but instead something closer to the foul and mischievous people of the mounds of the British Isles. The horror comes mostly from their savage practices and sinister needs.

Not only does the film perform magnificently as a tribute to the aged tales of faerie folk, it also offers something for fans of classic horror literature. If you appreciate the works of William Hope Hodgson, H.P. Lovecraft, and the like you'll be happy to know that there is not only mention of one of their peers but themes in the film's design which draw directly from weird fiction similar to their dark and otherworldly tales. Arthur Machen is specifically referenced in this film when Katie Holmes' character, Sally's father's girlfriend, goes to research the history of the original owner of the house, a Lord Blackwood. Guillermo Del Toro, the co-writer of the film, specifically chose Machen because of his idea of dark and misshapen faerie folk; a concept Del Toro not only found appealing but very much applicable to this tale.

There are occurrences here and there in the film which feel like stock moments or just bits of cliche, such as the gory faerie attack on the groundskeeper. I suppose a horror film needs to have a little gore these days to draw in a certain element. Just once though I'd love to see a film of the horror genre that relies solely on a deeper, more powerful fear without defaulting to savage blood-letting or a shocker scene to display obvious mortal danger. Creators should imply more without spilling so much red, not to say that Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a bloody romp through over-the-top violence. Not at all, actually.

Out of five I give this film a four. Don't pass up the opportunity to see it.

One of the dark-dwelling "faeries" of the film.

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