Today's Pick: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)
Horror movies for kids are tough. Either you get stuff that can't even be called "horror" because it's so safe and cutesy, or you run the risk of creating something too intense and causing the viewer to retreat. The eighties seemed to be the best period for this kind of film (see The Monster Squad), but I think the Guillermo del Toro produced remake of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark manages to walk that tightrope quite expertly, and provides a thoroughly chilling and thrilling experience for children that doesn't pull any punches.
The original 1973 TV movie is effective in its own ways, but it also provides the framework for a great remake. The filmmakers immediately improve the story by adding a child and making her the protagonist of the film. I also like that the creatures are given a malevolent fairy tale origin, taking the myth of the Tooth Fairy and twisting it into something horrifying. There's a whole lot of childhood fears taken advantage of in this film, and it's a big reason why the movie works so well for its intended audience. I think a lot of the criticism of this film comes from a place of misunderstanding: this is supposed to be the kind of scary movie a kid could have stumbled upon thirty-plus years ago. I can excuse some lackluster acting from the adult leads and a small scale when the focus on creating a creepy atmosphere that could spook a kid is this good.
I'm also somewhat biased because this film falls into a sub-genre of horror I have a particular affinity for: little creatures run amok. Gremlins is one of my top five favorite films, and I have a deeply rooted history with Critters (read about that here), so these kinds of films just tickle me the right way. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark certainly helps itself by having fantastic creature design, which I won't spoil in picture form here. The most casual Google search will result in plenty of images of the tiny beasties, but you really should save the reveal for the film. They are slowly exposed in a measured way that also hearkens back to creature features of yesteryear.
The film isn't perfect. There's a protagonist shift near the end, much like in Hellraiser, and while Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce aren't bad, they also aren't memorable in any way. But, as I said before, all that gets a pass because the film is a great exercise in scary storytelling. The whispered voices of the creatures calling the little girl's name ("Saaaaally."), the haunted house atmosphere, and the campfire tale quality of the story land so perfectly that it more than makes up for the few weaks links in the film's chain.
I'm always on the lookout for horror films that a reasonably well-adjusted kid could enjoy. I think it's important to cultivate a love of all genres of fiction, and horror is one that can be tricky for kids to get into. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a textbook example of how to make a horror movie that children can watch and be scared by, but also not inundated with material that their parents might find inappropriate (excessive violence, sex, nudity, swearing, or whatever else my parents let me see when I was four years old). If you think your kid can handle some genuine tension and terror, pop this one in. You might even find yourself liking it as well.
Tomorrow brings us the best horror musical ever to make its way to film. No, I'm not talking about Rock of Ages. See you tomorrow!
31 Days of Drew 2 (2014)
31 Days of Drew (2013)