WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Interior designer Alex (Guy Pearce) moves his young daughter Sally (Bailee Madison) and new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) into a creepy gothic mansion with a view to doing the place up and selling it on for a handsome profit.
As the adults get excited about what piece of furniture or wood stain they plan to use, Sally is left in her cavernous bedroom or exploring the dingy basement or the sprawling grounds on her own.
From time to time, the paid help – groundsman Harris (Jack Thompson) and the housekeeper Mrs Underhill (Julia Blake) – have to keep Sally in check as she heads a little further than she should.
Like many children in such situations, Sally – feeling ignored by her busy father and his girlfriend – starts hearing voices – creepy, squeaky voices – asking to be her friend – and begging her to turn off the lights.
The voices come from behind a grate in the wall, which mark the end of a tunnel from her bedroom down to the basement.
At first, the lonely young girl encourages communication with the voices – but when they turn out to belong to ravenous, foot-high, gremlins that feed on the teeth of children, Sally starts to panic.
Kim’s own research into the history of the house satisfies her that they’re not alone in the house, but Alex’s one-tracked mind sees him determined to finish the project in time to impress his financier, Charles (Alan Dale).
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
This remake of the 1970s TV movie of the same name is a slick and effective horror-by-numbers.
It’s effective because formulae work – if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be used over and over again – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
But this ticks so many of the horror genre boxes that you can predict what’s going to happen at almost every turn.
A young child, hearing disembodied voices in a spooky gothic mansion, with a creepy groundsman and middle-aged maid – it feels so derivative and clichéd.
Had it come from a group of unknown film-makers, it could have been criticised for being lazy and safe, but under the watchful eye of writer and producer Guillermo del Toro, it can just about been seen as a pastiche of the genre – but pastiche should be more tongue in cheek, and this film takes itself rather too seriously.
Del Toro finds himself in an exclusive group of film-makers, including the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, who seem to have more leeway to get away with ‘borrowing’ or ‘recycling’ ideas than younger film-makers who follow in their footsteps. A first timer would probably have had trouble getting this project off the ground – unless, of course, they could find some big names to star in it.
Guy Pearce has made some astonishingly clever career choices since he made the successful jump from Australian soap operas to Hollywood movies, but this role gives him nothing to do – he doesn’t even get to do much panicking, as for most of the film, he’s just busy working on the house.
Even Katie Holmes, whose character at least is conflicted – whether she’s trying to bond with her boyfriend’s daughter or find out the sources of frights in the house – doesn’t feel particularly comfortable with the material.
It’s one of those films that’s difficult to predict who it’ll reach. It’s clearly targeted at horror aficionados, but they’ll be harder to frighten than people less familiar with the film’s forebears, but the target audience will have seen it all before, while newcomers to the arena won’t take so well to the bumps and jumps.
Despite a few workmanlike shocks, in truth, it’s so predictable that it’s really not that frightening. And most unforgivably, it won’t make most viewers particularly afraid of the dark.