Many horror films, be they of the ‘Saw’ or “Friday the 13th” variety, are a lot of things, but scary isn’t one of them. This is often because their stock and trade is shock, and violence is the means to that end.
They’re not particularly scary because fear involves mood and atmosphere, things that takes patience and time to build, things that can be squandered by one bad decision on the part of the director. This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with a bit of mindless violence every once in a while, but sometimes you want something a little more challenging with your gratuitous bloodletting.
And besides, not every director can be a David Cronenberg or a George Romero, who somehow manage to include either some social commentary or particularly thought-provoking concepts with their destruction.
“Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark” is unlike some of the aforementioned films in that the terrors that it that it trades in are often of a smaller, though no less deadly, variety. In fact, for a film as suspenseful as it is, the body count is actually relatively small, but that doesn’t matter, because the film is all about the slow burn.
In fact, for about the first half-hour there are only hints of what’s going to go on, though when things get rolling, there’s no doubt that the family that moved into Blackwood Manor will be lucky to leave.
With their lives.
Alex’s (Guy Pearce) daughter is sent to him by his former wife, who we never see, and only hear once by telephone. The presence of the child, Sally (Bailee Madison) awakens something in the house that has resting, till now.
Which reminds me, despite stars like Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes, the real star of the film is Blackwood Manor, the home that Alex and Kim are renovating. Roger Ford, the production designer on the film, has made an ominous and foreboding structure, complete with a garden maze, hidden doorways and way too many darkened nooks and crannies.
Besides, one of the best things about this film is that when Alex and Kim realize that something is really wrong, and that Sally isn’t making it up, they actually attempt to leave, despite all the time and money that they have invested in renovating the house, which–if you have watched any horror films involving haunted edifices–is highly unusual.
I should also mention that this film was one of the first that I attended that a person actually screamed aloud during a scene, which for me is proof that a horror film has hit all the right buttons.
I won’t give the scene that brought out such reaction away, but I will say watch out for the teddy bear and enjoy one of the best horror films of the year.