The meat of my review of the original establishes that Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is:
The 2011 remake fails so egregiously because it takes a relatively simple and yet resonant tale (as diagrammed in the excerpt above) and then heaps more and more unnecessary story detail atop it.
In the spirit of Jan De Bont's The Haunting (1999), the reasonably-proportioned country estate of the original has been turned into a Goliath mansion of impossible interior decoration and dimension.
This mansion interior is so ornate, so over-sized that it would be difficult to imagine such a place actually existing in our reality. It is a fantasyland castle. This problem in presentation and tone is exacerbated, in fact, by the film's very first shot. We open with a CGI view of the mansion exterior in the past, in the 1880s. The view is abundantly phony, and immediately colors the film as fantasy, rather than as horror.
Reality is absent from frame one.
We see artwork of the monsters, and learn of their interactions with the historical papacy in Europe. The only thing we don't get is a specimen for our own personal dissection.
A good general rule of thumb in horror is that the less we know about certain elements of a narrative (namely what the monsters are, and what, precisely they want), the more successful the film is.
Horror rests in not-knowing, in ambiguity.
Why? Because that's the essence of human life.
We don't always understand why fate chooses us to suffer, or why bad things -- such as a car crash, or diagnosis of cancer -- occur. The good horror movies reflect such real life ambiguity by not sharing absolutely everything about their menace, whether that menace is Michael "The Shape" Myers, the birds of Bodega Bay, or the xenomorph in Alien (1979).
The problem is sloppy writing. The story just doesn't hold together, and the film will have you screaming over its multitudinous oversights and missed opportunities.
For instance, late in the film, the young heroine, Sally (Bailee Madison), is trapped in a dark library with the rampaging monsters. She battles them valiantly, while outside the library, the dinner guests of her father, Alex (Guy Pearce) try to break in and rescue her.
At this point in the narrative, everyone believes Sally is merely a disturbed or troubled child, and that the monsters are figments of her troubled imagination.
Another involves the monsters themselves. Throughout the film, there are perhaps a half-dozen of them. Just a handful.
But then suddenly -- and conveniently in time for the over-the-top climax -- there are literally dozens.
Where did the rest come from? Where were they hiding during the rest of the film? Lounging in the underworld?
If your population's survival depends on accomplishing one task, such as stealing a child, do you leave the bulk of your army languishing in the furnace until the last minute?
The surfeit of monsters in the climax undercuts the monster's established motivation: the desperate need to reproduce. By elaborating so fully about the monsters and their needs, the movie writes itself into a corner. When suddenly a dozen monsters appear, it doesn't ring true; it smacks of gimmickry.
Thirdly, the finale of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark sees a character dragged down into the furnace; down, down underground, into a seemingly endless (but navigable...) tunnel of dirt, clay and earth.
In the original TV movie, Sally was dragged down into the furnace when nobody else was nearby...so no one saw where she went and could rescue her. She just...disappeared. Her husband might easily have believed she had left him; that she had run away.
In this day and age, the police would surely have excavators and work crews ripping up that basement to rescue the missing citizen in short order.
I realize, of course, that Alex can't immediately follow the missing family member down the hole himself, because he has another family member to look after, and he may consider the danger from the monsters far from over.
But he could drive away, make a cell phone call, drop off the family member, and go back and save the missing person from the well. It makes absolutely no sense that this doesn't occur. This is yet another example of embellishing a story to the point that it can't stand up on its own.
A groundskeeper, Mr. Harris, fights off the monsters about mid-way through the film. They get into his toolbox and go at him with scissors, a utility knife, and other deadly implements. He manages to escape, climb the basement stairs, and seek help from Sally and the housekeeper. He still has scissors jutting out of his shoulder.
Again, all sense of reality just crumbles, and horror must possess a level of reality before layering on the scares.
In the climax of the original TV film, for instance, Sally utilized the flash of a Polaroid camera to try to injure the photo-sensitive beasts. At that point in history (the 1970s), Polaroid cameras were commonplace, so the idea was pretty clever. Sally used what was on hand to inventively attempt to save herself.
Again, contextually-speaking, the Polaroid made sense in the original. It was an inventive weapon of last resort. But it's resurrected here in a context that is nonsensical.
The audience has specifically been notified that the fairies want to take children to replenish their small numbers. At the end of the film, the monsters abduct somebody, but it isn't a child, and yet they add her to their ranks. She is transformed into a monster (off-screen).
How does this work, precisely? Aren't kids the the magic bullet? Why bother to laboriously explain the rules of these monsters' existence, if your movie isn't even going to stick to them?
Alas, if you've watched the film's trailer, you've already seen this bracing moment. It's a major plot point -- the reveal of the monster -- and the impact of it is utterly ruined by the preview trailer. I can't blame this issue on the film makers, but they must have surely been disappointed to see their big "boo!" moment ruined by advance advertisements.
Little Sally is not really wanted by her mother or father, and is shifted about from house-to-house with little thought. She is warned to be "gluten free" and take her "Adderall," dialogue points which convey the idea that her parents don't want to be bothered with her.
The child possesses everything (material) a kid could want, except love and affection. So when those monsters tell Sally that "they [meaning her parents] don't want you, but we do," the line carries some resonance and power. We all want to be with people who love us. The monsters manipulate Sally at first to make her believe they care for her, and the attempted corruption of a child is indeed frightening.
Does she have the mettle to be a Mother? What about her own tough childhood?
These new ideas are half-developed, and the final resolution of the story is not nearly as powerful as it should be because the movie spends so little time developing the growing bond between Kim and Sally.
The real question to consider: is this Sally's story, or is it Kim's? The movie doesn't ever truly decide. If this were a legitimate fairy tale, Sally would likely end up with the beasts in the furnace, finally finding her sense of "belonging" there which would serve as a lesson to all parents who neglect their children.
You either care for your kids and give them attention...or they could end up a monster.
A shame this movie doesn't have the gumption to follow through with its theme, and go in that unsettling direction.
Embellishing isn't necessarily improving, and the new Don't Be Afraid of the Dark gets so big and fat, it forgets to tell a story that makes sense, or that is capable of truly disturbing our slumber.
The original 1973 telemovie did so much more with so much less.