A cheesy made-for-TV horror flick from the early ’70s might not scream Guillermo del Toro remake fodder, but it’s right up the Pan’s Labyrinth director’s cinematic alley — musty, fantastical setting (a creepy abandoned New England mansion), fragile young protagonist (Bailee Madison as Sally) and, most vitally, whimsical fairy-tale creatures who enjoy snacking on the teeth of children.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, co-written by del Toro and directed by comic book artist Troy Nixey, has all the bones of a stylish fright fest, but the first-timer’s languid pacing repeatedly squanders all that organic tension. Sally, relocated by her flake of a mother to live with her architect dad (Guy Pearce) and his interior designer lover (Katie Holmes), is a troubled kid wrestling with abandonment issues — so (naturally!) she clings to the teasing voices pleading for her friendship from a deep, dark hole in the basement. Though the grown-ups don’t believe her, Sally soon starts being terrorized by these otherworldy monsters that operate solely in the shadows.
You couldn’t pay for a better device with which to cultivate big scares, but Nixey’s herky-jerky organization (screams one sec, snores the next) does no favors for the film, which takes little advantage of the latitude that comes with an R rating.