It might not be too difficult to imagine that you are the child of divorced parents, and one of them is incapable of raising you, so you become the other parent's problem. That parent is not used to raising kids, and is building another life outside of the one they used to have with you, complete with a new spouse. Hopefully it is difficult for you to imagine that the new house they are restoring is overrun with homicidal gremlin guys that will not stop assaulting you and your family until someone is dead. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, directed by Troy Nixey and produced by Guillermo Del Toro, puts this scenario on the big screen with great results.
This is a remake of an atmospherically creepy made for TV movie, and there was definitely room for improvement. They made good use of the technology available back then to make it disturbing, but it was mostly lacking in the scare department. The elements of a good horror story are all in place this time around, though. The ghoulies won't stop their sinister whispering and are completely relentless in their quest, and when you pair that with a stressed-out, sleepless, estranged family, you've got a winner on your hands. Movies like this hinge on whether or not you think the monsters are scary, and for me, these guys were so upsetting I left fingernail marks in my friend's arm (sorry, Kyle). This is rarely the case, so this movie stands out as one of the most satisfying scary movies of recent past.
Another factor that makes this movie great is the set. Yeah, that's right, I said set. Del Toro is known for his visually rich films that create an entire realm at once plausible and otherworldly, and even as a producer seemed to influence this film in the same way. The home that Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes are working to return to its full glory is an estate with winding grand staircases, a study rivaled only by the Library of Congress, and enough hidey holes to both delight and terrify anyone brave enough to explore them. The home dwarfs everyone in it, and was almost its own character (complete with phenomenally beautiful and confusing front door with an intricately carved tree in it). This is precisely the kind of house where an ancient evil lurks, and from the beginning of the movie till the end, it looms over everyone.
Doing their best to fill that hulking space with their hopelessness are the actors. Does anybody remember how Katie Holmes was a fun actress to watch before she became Suri's mom? Well, she's back and acting Guy Pearce under the table, which is no small feat. This movie also requires more from its youngest actress than just screaming and running, and Bailee Madison rises to the challenge. The performances help this movie feel like a little bit more than just a fright fest, but never crosses over into "If someone says one more word about their feelings I will feed them to the demons myself." The entire picture has a perfect balance, and is a great way to usher in the fall. Just keep in mind that the person who goes along with you might want to wear a long-sleeved shirt.