If Gollum of Lord of the Rings fame and the Tooth Fairy got together and spawned a horde of young’uns, they might resemble the terrible little creatures at the center of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.
I’ll let that description suffice, for to give away more detail would only take away from the squeamish experience of watching this creepy, twisted horror entry from the ghoulishly ingenious mind of co-producer and co-screenwriter Guillermo del Toro. (Newcomer Troy Nixey directs.) OK, one more clue: it really does involve children’s teeth.
Like Pan’s Labyrinth, which del Toro helmed, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark uses the real-world anxieties of a young girl as a springboard into fantastical happenings. Sally (the morosely faced Bailee Madison) has been shipped by her mother into the care of her father (Guy Pearce), who is in the midst of restoring a historical mansion with his girlfriend (Katie Holmes). It’s bad timing, he says, and the fact that he thinks about this upheaval in his daughter’s life as a scheduling delay tells you all you need to know about his commitment to fatherhood.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark lays on the parental parable awfully thick; it works better as a free-flowing dramatization of the real fear of abandonment many children have. There’s a reason that Sally, when she hears whispers coming from a grate in the basement, responds with curiosity rather than terror. The voices may be hissing, but they’re offering something she craves: company.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark isn’t ever really that scary. It’s gory in bursts and disturbing throughout, with at least one ingenious sequence involving a dinner party, uninvited guests and the defensive use of a Polaroid camera. To call it Pan’s Labyrinth light wouldn’t be unfair, though parents might find it more unnerving than that suggests. It will certainly have you rethinking whether or not you want to “play” Tooth Fairy with your kids.