Sony's US disc carries a very solid and consistent AVC transfer. The film is new and shot with mood and atmospherics in mind at all times. We are in the land of contrasts – deep, dark shadows for the interiors and chilly, austere light for the exteriors. The disc copes admirably with them and the 1.85:1 frame is smoothly rendered and immaculately captured.
Whilst the interiors boast the darker aesthetic, they are also richly coloured and textured with a pleasingly autumnal palette that offers a warmth and a redolence that genuinely draws you in. Lots of walnut and mahogany fill Blackwood Manor, and this sumptuous look gives the image a bizarrely cosy feel, with the screen dripping with stately parlour-room grandeur. The bedside lamp in Sally's bedroom is a swirling lantern casting shapes across the walls – this also lends the room a gorgeous amber cast that is beautifully spilled across the frame. This lush aspect also stretches to the glow from the fire, and the ambience in the central library with its golden light and contrast from the rows of green desk lamps. Stained-glass windows illuminate the library in the manor, again casting a well-realised glow upon things. This is all very decorative and pleasing to behold. The autumnal splendour outside is also captivating, with lots of natural greens, browns and yellows. The swirling grey mist that hovers above the lake is free from banding, and if the overcast skies look bluey-white, this is an intentional look designed to lend more power to the contrast indoors.
Now, I admit that I love intense black levels – especially in films like this – so I am not as critical as other people when it comes to crushing. So whilst I didn't mind at all when huge swathes of impenetrable gloom occupied the screen during the movie, I am sure that some other viewers will. The shadow-play is wild and very, very deep. The blacks are never infiltrated by grey, never watered-down or compromised in any way. They are thick and heavy … and, as far as I am concerned, they look just great. However, I can certainly understand if some people aren't quite as enamoured as me when they realise that some detail may well have been totally engulfed by them, which I think is the case at times.
Detail outside of those blacks is very good, though not great. Close-ups yield lots of stuff that people like Guy Pearce wouldn't feel flattered by, and these elements are typically and consistently excellent. Skin tone and texture is fine and realistically varied. The creatures, themselves, fare more than decently in this department too. In fact, the CG elements are integrated marvellously and the transfer opens them up to intense scrutiny … and they won't be found wanting. The wounds that characters receive at the tiny hands of these monsters are also clearly delineated, so you can inspect their handiwork of razor-thin slices in flesh, stabbings and little spurts of blood. Nothing to satisfy the real gorehound, but still a nice reminder that these imps mean business. We can also see their eyes peering out from the murk – not sparkling or demoniacally radiant, but great little glints of subhuman depravity. The leaves that litter the gardens, the markings on the stonework, the grain in wood, the patterns of spider-webs down in the basement and the spines on books – yes, all of this comes through just fine.
As far as the digital side of the transfer goes, there's nothing to worry about either. No overt DNR, no unsightly edge enhancement, only minor aliasing. If you like the film, you're bound to be pleased with this transfer.
Here we have the little terrors wreaking mischief and havoc around your own room in an often fun DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. Sony make no errors with this mix, and it certainly seems to replicate the experience I had at the cinema, but with some added presence and a bit more clarity than I recall.
You want stingers? Well, you got 'em. There are lots of sudden jolts – both musical and lone sound effects. These are extremely well thrust out from the mix, emanating mainly from the front, but with occasional lurches from the surrounds too. When Sally uses the flash on her camera to ward off the little sods, the click-flare-vum! it makes is nice and swift and forceful, and really bursts across the soundscape. When the grate falls away behind someone's back, or when the creatures suddenly shriek out, the track provides plenty of oomph.
You want detail? Oh yeah, you got that too. The story demands that teeth and little feet play a major part. Near the start, we have too exquisite examples – all be they squirm-inducing examples – of the former. When the deranged old Lord Blackwood takes a hammer and chisel to his maid's mouth, we hear, with unbelievable clarity and precision, the sound of her dislodged molars skittering across the floor. We also hear them cascading down the sinister well with spot-on placement and movement. As for the latter, virtually every scene with the demons has the speakers carrying their scurrying feet across floors, tables, bannisters and shelves, the environment coming alive with the sound of pattering paws and claws.
Well, the transfer certainly handles those elements with accuracy, and the rest of the soundtrack doesn't drop the ball either. Impacts are thick and resounding, the sub enjoying some reasonably deep input at times. Directionality is pretty keen and well-steered. The creatures move about all over the place, voices and ambience are well carried from channel to channel, and natural atmospherics such as the breeze, the rain and off-camera activities are doled-out around the set-up without any hitch. The score is also given a fine presentation. As I have already said, I found Beltrami's music this time out to be a rare lack of form, but its treatment within this mix is perfectly well balanced and is warm, nicely distributed and boasts some good instrumental detail.
There's no problem with the dialogue either. Whether the speakers are human or imp, you can clearly discern every word. The imps actually hiss their lines out from behind the walls, their ghastly voices wafting through the grates and the pipes. The soundmix doesn't quite maximise upon this – I mean we could have had voices really creeping us out from over our shoulders and sounding as though they are whispering from beneath our own floorboards or from behind the skirting – but the weirdly hushed calls are still given directionality and a sense of eerie dislocation.
This is a great audio mix that can't help but become a little too swamped with music and effects during the frantic climax, but is still doing its absolute best to give the lacklustre film a shot in the arm. A good solid and enjoyable 8 out of 10.
We don't get much here, I'm afraid. Maybe the little demons spirited the good stuff away, but all we are left with are a three-piece making-of, some conceptual art and a slew of trailers for forthcoming releases.
This making-of can also be played as one longer featurette. Even then, the thing only lasts for twenty minutes. Split into three chapters – The Story, Blackwood's Mansion and The Creatures – this mini-doc, entitled Don't Be Afraid, covers all the usual bases that you'd expect from a behind the scenes look at a modern-made, but run-of-the-mill, gothic chiller. It is nearly all filmed on the set and we have Guillermo Del Toro on hand to big things up a bit, but really this is just fluff. We learn about the construction of the set, the folklore of the faerie-people and how we've probably been misinterpreting them and their motives all these years, and we see how the little buggers were designed and given life via art, pre-viz, mock-up dolls and final CG. I doubt you'll learn anything that was unique to this movie that you haven't seen in countless EPK featurettes before … but, at least it's something.
The Concept Art Gallery contains a multitude of images, primarily of the creatures in various stages of design and development. Marco Beltrami's score accompanies this BD Exclusive feature.
Now, one thing that I definitely loved about this meagre selection is the trailer for The Woman In Black. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, this looks absolutely superb and the trailer, itself, was well constructed and contained some tremendously eerie material. Can't wait for that one, folks!
Considering all the advance buzz about the film, and especially how Del Toro, himself, had bigged-it-up regarding how terrifying it was going to be, Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark is a crushing disappointment. Oh, it looks suitably grand and gothic and benefits from a pleasingly old school treatment, but it lacks proper scares, credible characters and pricks that disbelief suspension bubble far too early and much too emphatically. The plot deviation from the original is perfectly acceptable with regards to the creation of Sally and, on paper, the metamorphosis of the monsters from a clutch of creepy midgets to a horde of CG demons makes dramatic sense … but, when viewed in the context of the movie, the imps lose the essential spook-factor from almost the very instance that we first see them. Although gleefully nasty in places, one admittedly bravura set-piece is rendered schematically redundant by its subsequent glossing-over and, for me, the movie never recovers.
Performance-wise, the film is hampered by having two adult leads who are completely and utterly bereft of empathy or believability. Only the little one deserves any credit for what turns out to be nothing more than lavish dross. Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna were knocking this sort of thing out back in the 80's, and with much greater style, wit and atmosphere.
Although I have to say that I enjoyed Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark a little bit more at home than I did at the flicks, this may well be because I had lowered my expectations quite considerably. But this is still a remarkably poor effort despite the technical prowess and fine production design. And it's really saying something when the best thing about a release is one of the trailers featured on it, but The Woman In Black looks fantastic … and watching this is about the only reason I would ever return to this disc, no matter how good its AV transfer - which is very good, actually. So fans of the film will certainly be happy with how Sony have treated it. The picture is sublime and visually dripping with atmosphere, and the audio mix is detailed and exciting. Sadly, this quality is the dressing on what is a very bland dish indeed.
One thing is for sure, you Won't Be Afraid Of The Dark after watching this painful, low-rent effort.
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