"Don't be Afraid of the Dark", a remake of a 1973 made-for-tv movie by the same name, is ultimately a film about childhood innocence, fairy tales-turned real life evil, and how ignorant adults are of things that go bump in the night… in other words, it's a Guillermo Del Toro movie.
Except it isn't, because this one was directed by first timer Troy Nixey, under the tutelage of Del Toro, serving as producer. It centers around Sally, a young girl played by Bailee Madison, who's sent away by her mother in Los Angeles to live with her father in a big, creepy house in Rhode Island. Her father, played by Guy Pearce, is a distant patriarch more interested in restoring the mansion in order to get on the cover of a fancy architecture magazine - not to mention banging Katie Holmes, his new girlfriend and interior decorator - than he is in actually being a father.
This of course causes all sorts of emotional problems for Sally, already feeling abandoned by her mother. It's this emotional turmoil that leads Sally to go wandering around the grounds of the old house and eventually stumble upon a hidden basement, that we know from the prologue used to be the workshop of a famous artist who originally lived there. What we also know from the prologue, is that he was murdered by some type of creatures living in a tunnel underneath the basement which comes up through the fireplace. So… ya…
These are manipulative little creatures, and they're after one thing, children's teeth. Apparently these teeth contain some sort of sustenance for them, and they're willing to do basically anything to obtain them. They speak to Sally softly, and creepily, through the grate of the bolted shut fire place and promise her all the friendship and belonging she could ever need if she does just one thing, loosen the bolts let them out of their prison. Being a wide-eyed, and not to mention lonely child, she does so without a whole lot of coaxing. It doesn't take long after they're released for Sally to realize their true intentions, and spend the rest of the film dodging their advances while trying to convince the adults around her that she's in mortal danger.
You could more or less remove the tiny creatures from this film and insert any kind of monster, for although the little devils are quite fun and original, it's the only thing about the film that isn't well worn territory. "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is your basic "kid tries to convince adults that monster is after her" story. Almost every story beat and line of dialogue can be seen from a mile away, which robs the film of any true uniqueness it may have earned otherwise.
First timer Nixey does well by the film by essentially copying the style of its' producer Del Toro. There's a lot of precedence for this, rookie directors getting a little more than a guiding hand from a seasoned Exec producer. It's no wonder then that the atmosphere is by far the film's strongest asset. Although ultimately, the tone of the picture is a little hard to reconcile with the story. Remove a few conspicuous gore shots and what you essentially have is a children's film, albeit one that in moments is scary as heck.
The film is ultimately pretty fun and creepy, if not wholly original or well written. The best advice one could get before seeing this is to not think too hard about "Dark's" many plotholes. If the race of monsters have been around "long before humanity", then how exactly did they become so reliant on children's teeth for survival? Why children's teeth when adult's are so much larger? Why the "one death" rule? Since we see everyone die in the prologue, how did someone know to bolt the fireplace shut? You get the point.
"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is the most "Del Toro-iest" movie ever made that wasn't directed by the man himself, and that is meant as both compliment and complaint. It's also a film best enjoyed by divorcing yourself from the hyperbole coming from the horror fan community concerning its "scariness". Del Toro hasn't helped matters, claiming in interviews that the MPAA refused to give it a PG-13 rating because of "pervasive scariness". If you take his statement at face value, and not as a clever bit of marketing, then I have a piece of real estate you might be interested in as well… just a creepy little hole in the basement… I assure you, it's nothing…