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Troy Nixey
Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison, Jack Thompson, Julia Blake, Alan Dale, Trudy Hellier
Writing Credits:
Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins, Nigel McKeand (1973 teleplay)

Come and Play.

Sally, a young girl, moves to Rhode Island to live with her father and his new girlfriend in the 19th-century mansion they are restoring. While exploring the house, Sally starts to hear voices coming from creatures in the basement whose hidden agenda is to claim her as one of their own.

Box Office:
$25 million.
Opening Weekend
$8.525 million on 2760 screens.
Domestic Gross
$24.042 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 99 min.
Price: $35.99
Release Date: 1/3/2012

• “Don’t Be Afraid…” Three-Part Documentary
• Conceptual Art Gallery
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark [Blu-Ray] (2010)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 15, 2011)

Co-written and co-produced by Guillermo Del Toro, 2011’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark comes with a stronger pedigree than the average horror flick. I didn’t hear much about the movie when it hit US screens in August, but his participation intrigued me enough to prompt a look at this Blu-ray.

In a prologue, we go back decades – centuries? - to meet Lord Blackwood (Garry McDonald), the owner of a Rhode Island estate. He seems to have gone around the bend, and he feeds teeth to mysterious creatures in an attempt to regain his missing son. This doesn’t work, and the beasties attack and kill him.

Fast-forward to the present day, and we see that the mansion has new owners: Alex Hurst (Guy Pearce) and his live-in girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes). They’re fixing up the building to sell it, turn a profit and help their remodeling business.

Alex’s young daughter Sally (Bailee Madison) gets shipped to Rhode Island by her mother, who no longer wants the kid around for unspecified reasons. Sally’s not too happy that she has to go live with her pop and his girlfriend, but she brightens up some when she explores the mansion’s grounds and finds a heretofore-undiscovered basement.

A basement with some creepy secrets, as we’re soon reminded. As she explores, Sally hears the voices of the aforementioned strange creatures call to her. This leads to additional encounters as they try to lure her into their clutches.

Probably the biggest mistake made by Dark occurs right at its start. The entire prologue with Blackwood seems superfluous, as we could’ve caught up with his tale later in the film via an orally retelling or a flashback. The film would’ve gotten off to a more intriguing launch if it’d kept us in the here and now and not given us such a blatant glimpse at the house’s haunted past.

Still, I’d be okay with the prologue if only it didn’t spell out so much for us. At the very least, we should’ve been left to wonder if the house held any real horror or if Blackwood was just a nutbag with a tooth fetish. The film doesn’t leave open any room for interpretation; while we don’t see the creatures until later in the flick, we clearly know that they’re real, so their reappearance in modern times lacks the appropriate drama.

This saps tension from much of the film’s development. In a better-told narrative, we’d be left to wonder if Sally has emotional issues of her own. As the flick slowly builds the increasing presence of the creatures, we’d feel more intrigue if we wondered what was really happening there: are the monsters legit or is Sally just a messed-up little kid?

The movie even hints at Sally’s potential emotional issues. We know she’s on psychotropic medication for unspecified reasons. Does she take the drugs because her mother’s too lazy to actually parent her or is it because the kid has some real problems?

At no point does the film explore this issue, mostly because it doesn’t bother to create any mystery. Since the creatures are presented as real from minute one, we never question Sally’s mental status.

This ensures that a large portion of the film proceeds as a long, slow tease. We know that the creatures exist, so we simply wait for them to make themselves more obvious – and for the adults to catch up with what Sally already knows.

We wait. And we wait. And we wait a whole lot more. The film takes forever to get to the point at which it reveals the truth for all to see, and then it just turns into a minor scarefest. Any potential tension already went out the window, so all we have left is some violence. It doesn’t come out to a satisfying resolution, mostly because we’re so bored by that point we just don’t much care what happens to Sally and her family.

Dark makes other story mistakes as well. In the “particularly galling” category comes Kim’s use of a Polaroid camera. She pulls this out to take a picture of Sally when they pick her up at the airport. Why does Kim use such an outdated piece of technology? I have no idea – the film never explains why she doesn’t just use a digital camera like everyone else.

The presence of the Polaroid threw me off so much that I briefly wondered if Dark was supposed to be a period film set in the 1970s. I quickly figured out that it indeed takes place in present day – we immediately see Sally on her cell phone, so that plops it in modern times – so what’s with the Polaroid?

The film gives us an answer, but it has nothing to do with narrative logic. Why does Kim have a Polaroid camera? So it can be used as a contrived plot device later in the film.

For a character-based horror flick, Dark comes with far too many issues to overcome. That’s a shame, as the basic story has potential, and the production values seem good; the setting offers a creepy atmosphere that could’ve been used well with a stronger narrative.

And the actors seem fine. I’d previously seen Madison in Adam Sandler’s Just Go With It and disliked her. She was simply awful in that flick, and I feared her overbearing hamminess would come back to haunt Dark.

To my pleasant surprise, Madison keeps things under control here. Granted, the movie doesn’t ask her to do much more than sulk, cry and scream, but at least she doesn’t overplay her emotions. Sally dominates the tale, so it’s good that the young actress suits the role well. She’s clearly more talented than I thought after I saw her in Just Go With It and she works well here.

Too bad that the movie itself is so tedious. At its core, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark offers a potentially intriguing narrative, but it botches its telling of the story too often for it to succeed. We end up with a sporadically creepy but ultimately unsatisfying effort.

Dorky website footnote: this is our first review of a 2012 release. Who cares? Probably no one, but I like to mention pointless trivia. Whee – Happy New Year!

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus C-

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. This was a consistently strong presentation.

In terms of the film’s palette, it offered two basic options. Interiors went with an amber tint, while exteriors tended toward a blue tone to reflect the New England winter. Within those parameters, the colors seemed clear and full. Blacks were deep and dense, while shadows looked positive; a couple of shots were a bit dense, but that appeared to reflect photographic choices.

At all times, sharpness excelled. The movie displayed a good sense of definition and accuracy, with nary a soft spot on display. I saw no jaggies or moiré effects, and edge haloes were absent. Source defects also failed to create any issues. The movie always delivered a terrific visual impression.

I also felt pleased with the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. As expected, the soundfield emphasized creepy ambience, with creaks and moans from the old mansion. It also opened up to become more active at times, such as during a storm. The side and rear channels worked best when they highlighted the movement of the tiny beasts; they scampered around the room in a satisfying manner.

Audio quality seemed solid. Music was vibrant and full, and effects showed good clarity and accuracy, with nice low-end response when necessary. Speech was consistently natural and concise. This was a soundtrack that complemented the film well.

When we check out the set’s extras, the primary attraction comes from a three-part documentary called Don’t Be Afraid…. It runs a total of 20 minutes, 50 seconds and includes comments from director Troy Nixey, executive producers Stephen Jones and William Horberg, producer/co-writer Guillermo Del Toro, production designer Roger Ford, cinematographer Oliver Stapleton, Iloura Digital visual effects producer Ineke Majoor, visual effects producer Scott Shapiro, Iloura Digital lead VFX supervisor Glenn Melehorst, and actors Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison and Katie Holmes. The show looks at the movie’s origins and development, the original TV movie and its adaptation, story and character elements, sets, cinematography and visual choices, creature design and effects.

Given the semi-brief running time found here, it’s a stretch to call this a “three-part documentary”; it’s really just a few short featurettes that add up to one longish featurette. Nonetheless, the “documentary” delivers quite a lot of good information. It’s not the world’s most inclusive piece, but it touches on a variety of important areas and explores them in a satisfying manner.

We also find a Conceptual Art Gallery. It presents 68 stills that let us glimpse the design of the movie’s creatures. It’s a good collection, and I like the presentation, as it uses thumbnails to make it easy to access the images.

The disc opens with ads for In the Land of Blood and Honey, The Rum Diaries, Hostel Part III, The Woman in Black, London Boulevard and Driver. These also appear under Previews, but we don’t get a trailer for Dark.

With the active involvement of Guillermo Del Toro behind it, I had high hopes for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Unfortunately, the movie left me unsatisfied, mostly due to bad story choices that robbed it of tension and drama. The Blu-ray boasts excellent visuals and very good audio but lacks substantial supplements. While I can’t fault the presentation found here, the movie itself disappoints.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 1
1 3:
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