Monday, April 4, 2011

Afraid of the Film: "Afraid of the Dark" (1992)

Mark Peploe, one of the Oscar winning screenwriters behind "The Last Emperor," comes up with his own tale of a little boy overwhelmed by his situation, and in the process scares the living daylights out of the viewer.

Yeah, and there are spoilers in this review.

Ben Keyworth is young Lucas, a morose little boy whose blind mother Miriam (Fanny Ardant) dotes on him. His father, Frank (James Fox), is a cop and Lucas' hero. A madman is running around London slashing the faces of blind women, and the blind community is in a panic. Lucas is a little boy, hardly noticeable, and begins observing prime suspects. The ice cream man, the window washer, the photographer, even the overly helpful locksmith (played by a young David Thewlis), are all under the boy's suspicion. A neighborhood golden retriever is Lucas' only friend and confidant, and eventually Lucas has a showdown with the slasher, stabbing him in the eye with his trusty knitting needle...and then the film does a complete 180!

We find out Lucas was only imagining the first half of the film. The characters from the first half were not blind at all. Instead, it was Lucas who is slowly losing his sight. The day of his older half-sister's wedding, he is shunted aside. His mother goes into labor at the reception, and everyone forgets the poor little boy. Lucas still has the trusty dog Toby along, but his imagination gets the best of him. Toby is killed, and Lucas sets his next target as his new baby sister with the pretty blue eyes everyone comments on.

Ben Keyworth, as Lucas, is incredible. Some might see his delivery as flat and monotonal, but I thought his cold exterior was perfect. You will feel sorry for him, even in the throes of the madness that grips him in the latter part of the film. The beautiful French actress Fanny Ardant is great as his mother, and James Fox is always reliable as the dad.

Peploe's direction is so creepy it becomes uncomfortable often. The graveyard scenes are chilling, as is Lucas' hallucinations. Peploe also co-wrote the screenplay (with Frederick Seidel), so he knows these characters better than anyone. None of them are stupid, or do horror film-stupid things, and this adds to the squirm level. Plus, if you have any sort of phobia about things getting too close to your eyes (like I do), this may not be for you.

The pace is slow, as Peploe builds his characters, and this is actually a relief. The entire cast is good, and Peploe should direct more.

All in all, "Afraid of the Dark" is one of those films that you will find bothering you days after you see it. I highly recommend it. (* * * * *) out of five stars.