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Film / Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

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Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a theatrical remake of the 1973 TV Made-for-TV Movie of the same title. The film was directed by Troy Nixey and produced by Guillermo del Toro. Already finished in 2010, it was shelved in the course of Miramax' sale by Disney and was released on August 26, 2011. It made its round through several film festivals and conventions before release.

The plot revolves around a little girl named Sally being sent to her father Alex's house. There, she meets her father's new girlfriend, Kim. As Sally explores the house, she comes across a strange grate in the basement. Unknown to her, the grate contains evil creatures called Homunculi that live underneath the basement. Alex does not believe her when she tells him, but Kim does. As time runs out, Sally and Kim must stop the creatures, who want to claim Sally as one of their own.

The movie is currently rated R for "violence and terror". Meaning, it was rated R only because it was terrifying.

Provides Examples Of:

  • All There in the Manual: The origins of the Homunculi and the life and adventures of the owner of Blackwood Manor, named Emerson Blackwood, are detailed in Don't Be Afraid of The Dark: Blackwood's Guide to Dangerous Fairies.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: In the prequel, Blackwood expressed a desire to prove to his fellow scientists of the existence of faeries, and wanted to better learn about the homunculi. He later grew to regret it, as his obsession estranged him from his family, and resulted in his wife getting killed and his son being captured by them.
  • Berserk Button:
    • For God's sake, don't give the homunculi anything other than children's teeth.
    • Don't try to warn anyone about their existence either. The poor groundskeeper.
  • Big Fancy House: Blackwood Manor, which is also a Haunted House complete with creaking doors, an overgrown garden, a misty lake and hooting owls in the night.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The Viking runes above the fireplace spell out "BE AFRAID".
  • Bittersweet Ending: Alex and Sally get away, but Kim (the true hero of the story) is captured by the homunculi and soon becomes one of them, as they plot to bide their time and wait to escape. Also, it's obvious that anyone who buys the house next is screwed.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Real Polaroid cameras have about ten photos per film, and the type of flashgun used here has 5/6 shots, but Sally manages to transcend these limitations considerably.
  • Captain Ersatz: Emerson Blackwood has many similarities to Arthur Machen's character William Gregg, featured in Machen's story The Novel of the Black Seal. Both were renowned scientists who became obsessed with The Fair Folk, both ended up being laughed out of the scientific community, and both ended up vanishing under mysterious circumstances.
  • Cassandra Truth: No one except Kim believes any of Sally's "stories." Lampshaded by the homunculi while they taunt Sally near the film's climax.
    • Blackwood's backstory: So, you've come to the realization that The Fair Folk exist, and want to prove it to your colleagues so that the world can be prepared in case they run into beings long believed to be nothing but legends? Then prepare to be ostracized by the scientific community, who are now pondering how such a person of your intelligence and prestige could have gone so far off the deep end.
  • Changeling Tale: A dark version of it; the homunuculi feed off of children's bones, and drag them down into their realm, where the kidnapped child (or adult, as is later shown) becomes one of them.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Kim's camera. Sally uses its bright flash to hurt/scare off the homunculi.
  • Creepy Basement: Locked away and hidden by the previous inhabitants — for a very good reason. Sally discovers its window under a hedge.
  • Creepy Doll: Sally's original doll after the homunculi get ahold of it and break off its smile, apparently in an attempt to eat its teeth.
  • Deadly Bath: Admit it. You totally knew that the homunculi were going to attack Sally the moment she got into that bathtub.
  • Deal with the Devil: It's later revealed that the homunculi leave coins in exchange for children's teeth in accordance to a deal they made with the Catholic Church centuries ago. In fact, the prequel novel expands on this, saying that other groups in the past, such as Vikings, have made similar deals with the homunculi, usually not without dire consequences.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: Attempted when Mr. Harris gets mobbed by a dozen Homunculi, but he manages to fight them off.
  • Decomposite Character: Sally was split into two characters, with her name going to Alex's daughter, and his wife being another character named Kim, who takes a majority of the original Sally's role. Kim also ultimately shares 1973 Sally's fate.
  • Exact Words: The homunculi are required to "take a human life" any time they emerge. In the end, it turns out that this doesn't mean they need to kill a human — they literally take a human life and turn it into one of them, and thus it is no longer a human life.
  • The Fair Folk:
    • The homunculi. The fairy ring Sally finds in the garden pretty much clinches it.
    • Blackwood's Guide to Dangerous Fairies reveals more about the nature of the Fair Folk: They were a side effect of Creation, but refused to side with either God or Lucifer in the war in Heaven. As such, when the war was over, God decided it was best to leave the "Children of the Earth" to their own devices, free from the laws that govern mankind. Certainly explains a lot, when you think about it.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Alex; a throw-away line has him comment on trying to get his career back.
  • Foreshadowing: Blackwood mentioning Miss Winter's "lovely teeth" in Blackwood's Guide To Dangerous Fairies foreshadows his transformation into a Homunculus.
  • Good Stepmother: Kim. She actually tells Alex that she feels like a Wicked Stepmother due to Sally's initial coldness towards her, but she's not even close to actually being wicked.
  • Grimmification: The homunculi leave Sally a coin when they take a tooth she left under her pillow, just like the tooth fairy. Then they try to kidnap her.
  • Grand Theft Me: Kim, who becomes a homunculus at the film's end.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Kim manages to get Sally free from her ropes and tells her to run while she gets captured by the homunculi herself. Made into a Fate Worse than Death when it's discovered that anyone not killed by them basically becomes one of them.
  • Hostage for MacGuffin: At the beginning of the movie, the homunculi promise to give Blackwood back his son if he gives them children's teeth to eat. He attempts to persuade them with the maid's teeth instead. They are not pleased.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: The reason Sally listens initially to the voices coming from the basement; she's new in town, her father's busy, and she isn't particularly fond of Kim. At that point, a group of tiny voices saying they want to be friends with her doesn't seem so bad...
  • Improvised Weapon: The homunculi use whatever sharp objects they can hold to attack their victims. At the end of the film, Sally kills Blackwood by crushing him under her flashlight.
  • Irony: The title; if anything, this film will make you afraid of the dark.
  • Jerkass Realization: Alex has one too little, too late, as it only fully sinks in after Kim is dragged to her Fate Worse than Death.
  • Jump Scare: Quite a few. Most prominent in a scene where the homunculi raid Sally's room in the night. Sally crawls under the blanket of her bed to chase them down. Suddenly, a homunculus comes out of nowhere and screeches.
    • Another comes when Sally approaches the teddy bear Kim got for her and reaches out. The teddy bear (which has one of the homunculi behind it) SNAPS at Sally's fingers, making her jump back onto the bed.
  • Lovecraft Country: The film just happens to be set in Providence, Rhode Island. When you think about it, that very fact kinda makes the homunculi seem just that bit scarier...
  • Mama Bear: Kim will do anything to protect Sally, and even gives her life to save her.
  • Missing Mom: From Sally's perspective, her mother pretty much dumped her on her father. The saddest part? She's right. Even worse was that Sally thought she was just visiting. Then she asks her father how long she's going to be staying, and it turns out she's there for keeps. Her mother just didn't tell her, although one could make a case that this was because she thought Sally wouldn't go if she knew what was up. (Given the fact Sally has tried to run away before, she may well have been correct.)
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • We never see Kim as a Homunculus; only her voice is heard at the end.
    • Related to the above spoiler is the fact that we never learn how the Homunculi assimilate humans into their ranks... and that just makes it creepier.
    • Exactly how far down does that chasm in the basement go? Blackwood himself never figured it out, but his theories — ranging from the chasm connecting to other tunnels and holes throughout the world, to reaching into some other realm, do nothing to ease the ominous nature of it all. Even Del Toro himself has commented that this, and not the homunculi themselves, is the true source of terror in the movie.
  • Otherworldly Visits Youngest First: Eight-year-old Sally is the first to be made aware of the existence of the "tooth fairies" living in the Blackwood house. But before long, her father Alex and his girlfriend Kim learn the reality of their existence. These Tooth Fairies, though, are not benevolent creatures, and try to abduct Sally. Kim saves her, but at the cost of her own humanity, as the tooth fairies seize her and transform her into one of their own.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: The manual goes into great detail about exactly how they're different and where the fairies are from. The homunculi are identified as 'tooth fairies' a number of times, along with darker names.
  • Paper Key-Retrieval Trick: A key is seen popping out of a door lock to land on a piece of drawing paper, which is pulled under the door and out of sight.
  • Parents as People: Sally's father Alex is so focused on renovating the mansion that he disregards Sally's claims about the homunculi and even blames her for their troubles.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: The Homunculi will eat bones, but they absolutely love children's teeth.
  • The Voice: Sally's mother. We only get to hear her talk on the phone.
  • Weakened by the Light: The homunculi are hurt by bright light.
  • Weaponized Camera: The Polaroid camera's flash temporarily blinds the creatures and causes them pain.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • In the course of scaring them away, Sally takes numerous pictures of the critters, and even removes one of their arms. We never see any of the pictures, they don't seem to convince the father very much, and the arm is never mentioned again.
    • It's implied the groundskeeper survives the attack. There's a body. Did they go public? We'll never know.
    • Alex was there late at night when Kim disappears suddenly, with a large number of broken windows and doors and spilled blood left from the night. Wouldn't the police be just a little interested in what happened?
    • Atop that, they have the squashed body of Blackwood's homunculi, smashed flat by Sally's light, which could be used as proof.

The prequel novel contains the following tropes:

  • All Myths Are True: While the film only dealt with the homunculi, the prequel establishes that this trope is true in regards to the Fair Folk.
  • All There in the Manual: This is the manual.
  • All Trolls Are Different: Discussed by Blackwood, who believes the various differences in troll tribes are the result of some trolls evolving into different forms, while older ones survived at the same time in isolation.
  • Cold Iron: Discussed by Blackwood, who notes that various fairies (such as Baba Yaga) seem to have no trouble making contact with iron. Blackwood theorizes that either iron being harmful to fairies is untrue, or iron only harms certain fairy species.
  • Death of the Old Gods: Blackwood believes that Ragnarok already happened, but while the world is still intact, the Norse gods (whom he believes to just be a powerful fairy clan) were killed off.
  • Doing In the Wizard: Played with. Blackwood attempts to analyze the Fair Folk from a more scientific/naturalist perspective (he was a renowned scientist before the narrative starts, after all). To that end, he dismisses the existence of the soul or afterlife, generally interpreting stories of gods as exaggerated tales of fairy tribes and the idea of humans losing their souls to fairies as being a case of madness. The Fair Folk themselves are theorized by Blackwood to be just a separate, sapient species that evolved apart from humanity (predating humans, even).
  • Historical Hilarity: The Saxon Wars were started when the invading army burned down a sacred tree that was home to a fairy queen.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: According to Blackwood, ghosts are just malevolent fairies who take on the forms of deceased humans in order to torment those who are grieving. Note that in European lore, the line between ghosts and fairies was not as clear as it is now, while East Asian countries like Japan still have the line blurred.
  • Scrapbook Story: The book is made of excerpts from Blackwood's diary, along with pages from his guide on dangerous fairies, coupled with a couple other documents relevant to the story, notably, a document from the Catholic Church that was part of a Deal with the Devil they made with the homunculi.