When I say that Don’t be Afraid of the Dark is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, I don’t mean it as a good thing. Not that I have anything against scary movies. Signs, when I first saw it, was pretty scary and is still one of my favorite movies of all time (back when M. Night Shymalan was making interesting movies and not the stuff he’s done recently). When I say that Don’t be Afraid of the Dark is frightening, I mean excessively so.
Signs sort of eased you into things. It had some scary moments scattered here and there, but they were brief, and it wasn’t until the very end that things got really terrifying. By that moment you cared about the characters so much that you wanted to stick with them, through the horror, until they made it out alive. This movie, on the other hand, it quite terrifying from the get go. The little creatures that serve as the primary antagonists are really creepy, and they are not afraid to use creative means of capturing and or killing their target.
It doesn’t help that their target is a little girl. Sure, I know Signs had a little girl, but at least the adults around her were competant. They didn’t believe the strange stuff right away, but when they were forced to face the facts they reacted by taking drastic measures to fight back.
In this movie the adults continue to go about things normally, even when they’ve accepted the danger, and this defenseless little girl continues to get attacked by these creatures, over and over again. Such scenes are so terrifying that they’re disturbing. The movie makes an effort to get you to care about the characters, but when everyone is so blind to what’s going on…except Kim…it made me want to walk out of the theatre when they got attacked and were helpless to defend themselves. Even the little girl, when she hears voices coming from the basement, goes and tries to make friends, instead of getting scared. By the time she is scared it’s too late. The creatures are out and they’re after her.
If it sounds like I’m being hard on this movie, it’s because I am. It’s not because it isn’t well made. Quite the contrary. I can tell that a lot of thought and attention to detail was put into this movie. Some of the scenes are picturesque as Guillermo Del Toro is famous for. Certain character interactions are well written, and the director and the actors seem to do a good job of bringing the story to life. Even Katie Holmes, who hasn’t impressed me as an acress before, does a good job of playing the only adult here with any intelligence.
It just makes it’s shortcomings all the more apparent though. All the factors I describe above lead to a very horrifying movie, and it’s far too intense. Maybe if there had been a few less scenes where the little girl was alone, in a dark room, with the monsters, that in of itself might have made things less intense. However, this happens three times! In the end the characters were far to vulnerable and the terror too intense.
It could have been a great scary movie, if it had slowed down the absolute terror just a little. If it had eased us into the scarier sections, and given the characters more of a fighting chance, I might have had a better stomach to stick with them and see how they got out. I don’t might if a character gets hurt or even dies, but give me reason to believe that they might have avoided it. As it is, it often felt like they didn’t stand a chance, and that was too terrifying.