/Film reader Dustin E caught a screening of the Guillermo del Toro-written/produced Troy Nixey-directed horror thriller Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark at a special screening presented during the Virginia Film Festival. Dustin says the film is “a great little throwback horror flick that will definitely please fans of the genre.” Hit the jump to read his full review.

Here is Dustin’s reaction:

Hey guys,

I just got back from a screening of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark followed by a Q&A with one of its producers, Mark Johnson, at the Virginia Film Festival. Mark Johnson assured us that we were the first public screening of the movie, so I figured you guys might want to hear a little about it.

In terms of the plot, it’s a pretty traditional and straightforward story. A little girl moves in with her dad and his girlfriend into a beautiful yet creepy mansion they’re currently renovating. They make some interesting discoveries and let’s just say nothing good comes of it. I don’t want to give too much away about the story, as there are a lot of good surprises, but Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a great little throwback horror flick that will definitely please fans of the genre. The film starts out with a bang, but then takes a turn and becomes a real slow burner, building up a sense of dread while doing a great job of introducing us to the characters and making us care about them and the situation they’re in. But when the shit hits the fan, the payoff is great and the audience seemed to do all of the screaming and jumping the filmmakers were hoping for.

In terms of the acting, all three leads do a fantastic job, particularly Bailee Madison and Katie Holmes. The only thing I’d seen Bailee Madison in was Brothers (which she did great in), but I was really astounded by how good she was in this. It’s tough for adults to act convincingly in horror films, which makes it all the more impressive that a 10 year old carries the weight of most of the pivotal scenes and scares on her shoulders. I feel like it’s been a while since we’ve seen Katie Holmes in anything, but she did a fantastic job of being a truly sympathetic character in a tough situation. I hope this movie gets her acting in things more regularly again. Guy Pearce is good in everything, but I do have to say my one gripe about the movie was that he seemed a little less than sympathetic. In fact, he was kind of a dick. But I guess that’s the role his character was meant to play in the story, so kudos.

If I had to compare the movie to anything movies, I’d say it’s part Poltergeist and part Pan’s Labyrinth. Mark Johnson actually touched on the similarities with Pan’s Labyrinth during his Q&A. He pointed out that Guillermo del Toro actually wrote the script for this movie about 12 years ago, well before he had written Pan’s Labyrinth. However, he wasn’t ever able to get a studio to back the film so the script just sat on his shelf until now. When he wrote Pan’s Labyrinth, he actually borrowed a lot of the themes and details from his Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark script. For fans of Pan’s Labyrinth, you’ll definitely spot the similarities and I actually felt like it made me appreciate parts of the movie a little more.

I was rather shocked while watching the movie that it has been slapped with an R rating. There’s no cussing, no nudity, very minimal blood and gore (virtually everything happens off screen), and none of it seems like anything you wouldn’t see in a PG-13 movie. Mark Johnson brought this up during the Q&A and said that they were originally going for a PG-13 rating but the MPAA basically laughed in their face when they screened the movie. They told them there was no way they could get a PG-13 rating with a movie that focuses all its terror and violence on such a young child, so the producers decided they would take the R rating and stick by their cut of the movie. I personally thing it’s a silly rating for the movie, but it was a good move for them to stick with this version.

Last note, the delay of the film was brought up and Mark Johnson said they’re currently in limbo regarding a release date, but in working with the studio, he’s very confident that it’ll get an aggressive release and promotion as soon as things are in order at Miramax. So don’t fret everyone. You’ll get to see it soon enough.

Let me know if you want any more details or have any questions.

-Dustin

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