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The One-Line Summary: Nine-year-old Sally (Bailee Madison) moves into a lavish but slightly rundown manor once owned by a famous painter who disappeared, that her estranged father (Guy Pearce) and his caring girlfriend (Katie Holmes) plan to renovate and sell, not knowing that the fireplace in the basement is home to mysterious creatures that, once free, are the source of mounting mischief and eventual horror who demand the teeth of children.
The Two-Line Blurb: Based on the 1973 made-for-TV film of the same name which inspired Guillermo del Toro as kid to make movies (he wrote this adaptation’s screenplay), Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a gripping bit of children’s horror that is led by a well-cast Madison who, even so young, makes for a great character that is determined, empowered and a joy to watch, even if the story isn’t always satisfying. While there are some obvious characterizations and a predictable plot, where the adults are mostly dolts, there is some fun to be had as Sally investigates and faces constant disbelief from her father, who seeks psychiatric help for his daughter, before finally realizing the truth.
The Three-Line Set-up: This moment (and much of the film) is about playing with the standard tropes of children’s fears and begins in the opening moments when shadowy little figures who have kidnapped a boy (the painter’s son) and demand more teeth before jumping to present day and setting their sites on little Sally. New to the mansion, Sally discovers a secret basement, which a worker restoring the home warns her and her father to steer clear of, but she ignores it and one day, going alone, finds the sealed ash pit by following eerie whispers of her name and sees rune stones spelling “Be Afraid” over the flue. Undaunted, she opens the fireplace and the mostly unseen creatures emerge, quickly proving to be malicious, soon after attacking and seriously harming the worker who tried to reseal the pit.
The Four-Line Moment: In her bed one night, Sally is unable to sleep, especially when she hears the scurrying little feet of the diminutive creatures racing about the room, knocking over a lamp on the night table. In the dark, brandishing a flashlight, she sees at the end of the bed, the rise of her comforter, indicating something has crawled underneath and scampering toward her. She strips away the heavy blanket and slips under the sheet, wielding her flashlight to meet whatever little beast is coming near. Wonderfully extending the length of the bed for the shot, enhancing the fantasy and childlike wonder of the scenario, Sally creeps under the claustrophobic shadowed shroud ever near, as our point of view shifts to her own as the sheet willows up and over our heads with nervous anticipation of what is coming. When we finally get our first close-up look at the monsters, it provides the best jump scare in the film and ensures that anyone watching will think twice before slipping under the covers.
The Five-Word Review: Good scary fun for kids.