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Tooth Will Out

MOVIE REVIEW
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Dont-be-afraid-of-the-dark-bailee-madison
Carolyn Johns/Miramax Films

The marketing wizards working on “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” want you to believe that because the film is based on something that traumatized Guillermo del Toro as a child, it must be the next “Pan’s Labyrinth.” They conveniently neglect to mention that such an analogy is only possible after co-screenwriters Mr. del Toro and Matthew Robbins calculatedly changed the protagonist of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” from a housewife to a 9-year-old child — way to pull a fast one on the moviegoers and get them interested in a novice filmmaker’s remake of an unspectacular 1970s TV movie.

Even so, the “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” update doesn’t entirely make good on its new premise because its heroine, Sally (Bailee Madison of “Conviction” and “Brothers”), is an antisocial, pill-popping spoiled brat. Even if her divorcée dad, Alex (Guy Pearce), is a self-involved prick, that still doesn’t give Sally the carte blanche to throw tantrums every time dad’s girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) is being nice to her. You’d think she would be too busy sulking to listen to voices instructing her to unseal an ash door and unleash evil tooth fairies that want to make a human sacrifice out of her, but no. Needless to say, she is nothing like Ofelia from “Pan’s Labyrinth.” We are also unsure if Ms. Madison is supposed to stand in for Suri Cruise, because she looks a helluva lot more like Ms. Holmes than Mr. Pearce.

The thoroughly unsympathetic protagonist aside, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” just isn’t that frightening. Perhaps too thick to take a cue from the title, director Troy Nixey does not at all make use of negative space or create atmospheric dread. The tooth fairies are only scary sight unseen, but once revealed they come off as more disgusting than terrifying — which could also be said about the film itself.

DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK

Opens on Aug. 26 in the United States and on Oct. 7 in Britain.

Directed by Troy Nixey; written by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins, based on the teleplay by Nigel McKeand; director of photography, Oliver Stapleton; edited by Jill Bilcock; music by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders; production design by Roger Ford; costumes by Wendy Chuck; produced by Mr. del Toro and Mark Johnson; released by FilmDistrict (United States) and Optimum Releasing (Britain). Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Katie Holmes (Kim), Guy Pearce (Alex), Bailee Madison (Sally), Garry McDonald (Blackwood), Edwina Ritchard (Miss Winter), Jack Thompson (Harris), Julia Blake (Mrs. Underhill) and Nicholas Bell (Doctor).

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