Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: Leave the Lights On

by Ethan Alter August 26, 2011 6:00 am
<i>Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark</i>: Leave the Lights On

One of the things that distinguishes Guillermo Del Toro's horror films from the rest of the genre rabble are their formal elegance, to say nothing of their narrative discipline. Where a movie like the recent Fright Night remake demonstrates a short-term memory for scares -- cramming multiple jolts into every scene with little regard to the overall arc of the film -- Del Toro takes his time establishing a compelling mood, intriguing characters and a distinctive setting before getting down to the spooky stuff. The setting plays a particularly important role in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, a haunted house chiller that takes place almost entirely within the walls of a 19th century manor. From the minute we lay eyes on the place, we know there's something not quite right about it -- beautiful Gothic architecture and to-die-for closet space notwithstanding -- and part of the fun of the movie lies in watching the house's hidden horrors slowly bubble to the surface. The difference between Fright Night and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is like the difference between a novice poker player and an experienced card shark; the former tips his hand too quickly, while the latter bides his time before revealing what he's holding.

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