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Soon after moving in with her father and his new girlfriend, young Sally Hurst discovers she isn't alone in the house. There are strange creatures living there and aren't as friendly as Sally thinks they are. Since Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011) isn't completely del Toro's project and some of his magic is missing. However, a small amount of his structure remains intact. Instead of immediately jumping into the creatures simply attacking repeatedly, time is taken to introduce the characters and the connections between each role. The creatures are kept a mystery until much later into the running time. I appreciate that the film is patient in setting up before going into the attacks. Unfortunately, the screenplay becomes a bit cliché as the movie continues. The connections between the characters develop just as you predict. Even though Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011) is a horror film, there are dramatic elements that actually negatively affect the pacing. After one of the few attacks, the story slows down a bit before picking itself back up for the climax. A more even and smooth pace would have greatly benefited the overall film.
Even with the frequent change in the pacing, the cast manages the characters well. Bailee Madison plays Sally. Once I saw Brothers, I was looking forward to seeing what else young Madison is capable of. She's definitely a perfect match for her character. The audience is primarily seeing events unfold from her perspective. Don't judge Bailee Madison by her age, she shines in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011). Guy Pearce is Sally's father, Alex. His character isn't particularly the most likable due to caring more about money and the house than his own daughter. Katie Holmes performs as Alex's girlfriend, Kim. I don't have any problems with the performances.
Along with a story line that seems as if it came from the mind of Guillermo del Toro, the setting is as well. The house is particularly eerie filled with creaky, old hallways. As indicated in the title, the movie uses a lot of darkness. The ink blacks dominate the screen. As the creatures run through the darkness they can, the viewers aren't shown these critters until the climax. The CG effects of the creatures are slick. The dark imagery in the film is handled very well. Del Toro should know more than most that the sound design is a big part of the presentation. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011) delivers impressive sound. Expect to hear the small ghouls circling you from each speaker in the theater.
With having high expectations, I can't help but feel a bit of disappointment. Guillermo del Toro has released such brilliant films that I refuse to set low expectations for anything he's involved in. I wasn't expecting a masterpiece, but this is a missed opportunity. I never found myself spooked, jumping, or completely engrossed. The acting is good and the visuals are impressive, but the script is lacking. The pacing is a bit of a mess. I don't want readers to get the impression I disliked the movie. This is certainly better than quite a few other horror flicks being released nowadays, but had the potential to be much better. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011) is decent, but isn't anything that will keep you awake at night.