In a new horror movie in theaters this weekend, little Sally knows to be true what her parents stubbornly refuse to believe: There’s something to be afraid of in the darkness.
In effect, the movie’s title is whispered by a crafty army of demons hiding in the shadows: No, you scientific, enlightened, skeptical Americans, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.” There’s nothing there. Really.
Or as Sally’s oh-so-logical father assures her, “You just had a nightmare.”
But the movie itself is no nightmare, nor is it something to fear at the ticket counter. Delightfully creepy and far from the usual slasher stupidity, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is one of the very rare horror movies I might even recommend.
I’m usually no fan of the horror genre, as I don’t like playing with occult themes and the “spirit of fear” (see 2 Timothy 1:7). I don’t like dwelling on evil, and I take no delight in seeing spilled blood or listening to actors scream like little girls.
But the little girl in “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” actress Bailee Madison, puts on an excellent performance in this film, which focuses far more on story than it does on gory and comes across much more Alfred Hitchcock than Freddy Krueger. The movie also boasts a marvelous set, a mansion that is both awe-inspiringly beautiful and hauntingly spooky all at the same time. Rich lighting schemes that illuminate the old manse also make for some memorable movie magic.
The movie’s not perfect, suffering from a mediocre supporting cast and too many scenes (as the old joke about horror movies goes) where the characters behave like morons trying to get themselves killed, but that doesn’t stop the film from offering a few shivers that should delight those who enjoy the goosebumps.
What delighted me even more, however, were the clear messages the film conveyed on the nature of evil, the importance of faith and the glaring foolishness of Western culture.
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is actually a remake of a 1973 TV movie of the same name and even quotes the original, which reportedly spooked the bejeebers out of people when it was first released.
In the 2011 version, young Sally is sent to live with her father and girlfriend at a Rhode Island mansion the adults are fixing up for a feature in Architectural Digest. But when Sally stumbles upon a hidden basement, she also opens the door to a devlish past and an army of tiny whisperers in the shadows: lying, scheming little embodiments of evil that want nothing more than to destroy and devour. The only thing stopping these wicked minions is light, for the demons can only come out in the dark.
The parallels between these little fiends and the “powers of darkness” described in the Bible are numerous – from the nature of their temptations to the goal of their deceptions to their fear of being exposed to the light (see Ephesians 5:8-16).
And like all horror movies, the thrill, the appeal, the reason they seem to resonate so strongly with us, is that they portray as very real something we don’t often allow ourselves to think on: evil.
Yes, Virginia, there really is a Satan. And despite scientific humanism’s sophomoric insistence that all matter is merely moral-neutral and all “bad things” are simply the results of difficult childhoods, horror moviegoers know, deep down, that there’s a very different universe out there, one Charles Darwin and B.F. Skinner can’t explain, one where there really is an entity called evil.
And that’s where “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” really shines (all pun intended), because Sally’s dad doesn’t want to believe her. He’s much too mature, much too modern of a fellow to believe in spooks and evil spirits.
After Sally discovers the deceiving little demons are really “horrible,” she tries to tell her Dad.
But no, he says, they’re just “nightmares,” and, “It’s all in her head.”
He even does what any typical humanist does when confronted with terror and evil and despair: He hires a psychologist.
After examining Sally, the shrink doesn’t believe in the demons either, so he says, “I’d like to try a stronger medication.”
But neither the drugs nor the dismissals nor the appeals to rationality can stop evil from running amuck. It would appear there really is an army of evil minions set out to deceive, ensnare and destroy Sally. And the more these powers of darkness are able to avoid the light, the stronger they become.
Similarly, the Bible tells us, there is an army of darkness that seeks to deceive, ensnare and destroy us as well: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
But our modern Western rationalism denies this invisible reality, preferring instead to believe only in the visible, or, alternatively, only in the “good” invisible.
“Just because you keep denying it,” the stepmother warns, “does not mean it’s not happening.”
But still the Dad refuses to believe.
“I accept my daughter has problems,” he says. “They do not involve mosters in the basement.”
Basement? Perhaps not. But in the darkness, the shadows, in the very unenlightened minds of modern skeptics? Yes, that’s where the demons thrive.
Or as the creatures giggle in “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”: “We will go deeper. They will forget. Others will come. And we have all the time in the world.”
- “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” has fewer than a half dozen total profanities and obscenities, all of which are mild.
- The movie also has very little sexuality. Sally’s “stepmom” is seen in a slip, and she kisses and plays with Sally’s dad in a bed, but nothing explicit is seen or even necessarily implied. Sally’s dad also appears without his shirt in one scene … and that’s it.
- For a horror movie, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is surprisingly nonviolent, but its brief occurences of violence are startling and strong enough to merit its R rating. In one scene, a man attacks a woman, causing her bloodied teeth to be scattered about the floor. In another, the devlish basement creatures attack a man with various sharp objects, causing him to bleed from multiple wounds. In yet another, a woman’s knees are snapped backwards. Yes, it has its moments of gore. The fear of these little demon Gremlins is not unfounded. There are also moments of extreme peril and screaming.
- The film’s religious content is limited to a ring of mushrooms in the yard, which may or may not represent an occult symbol, and a discussion with a librarian on the history of the creatures, which apparently are fairies that predate humanity and made a bargain with a pope to stay in the shadows. The creatures have some written and spoken sayings and a mythology of sorts explaining their ways, but none of this is explicitly religious or occult.