Tuesday, October 16, 2012

October Fright Nights #1: Don't be Afraid of the Dark

Counting the days until Halloween one horror movie at a time.

I've seen this one before. An emotionally isolated girl is sent away by her L.A. mother (no more characterization needed there) to live in Providence in an old haunted mansion with her oblivious to the point of cruelty father (Guy Pearce, wasted as the straight man) and his new squeeze / interior decorator (Katie Holmes). The kid is unhappy, lonely, unloved, etc. Computer generated demon things whisper out from the basement; the kid explores but no one will listen to her cries of imminent danger, because, for christsakes she's just a kid; even after the groundskeeper, lying mutilated and bloody on a hospital bed, doesn't stutter when he tells Ms. Holmes to get the kid and get the hell out of town.

In 1980 the horror of a belittled and abused child was called The Shining and was a masterpiece. In 2012 it's called Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark and treads the same waters but replaces the cold detached sarcasm of the internal drama with fantasy horror held together with the broad strokes of American melodrama, letting dad off to learn his lesson the easy way. From melodrama is born caricature and from caricature is born films like this, which visually is beautiful (even if it doesn't do enough to make the house the true main character), but is then, as where melodrama often leads, average to the core.

Dad is cruel and won't listen; the kid (Bailee Madison) mopes and cries; and the squeeze tries her best to relate to the kid so that she has a purpose in a screenplay that didn't want to write more supporting characters. And just in case anyone wasn't paying attention to the obvious, the screenplay is nice enough to take the kid to a doctor to warrant a scene where a psychiatrist suggests that maybe the kid is creating the creatures in her mind as a result of a weak mental state. Do you think dad listens? But it's okay, neither does the screenplay.


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