Remaking any movie is always a bit of a minefield, you just never know how fans will react, but remaking a fondly-remembered TV horror from the 70s, adding plenty of CGI and the uneven acting of Katie Holmes sounds like a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, the end result is far from it.
This remake copies a lot of little moments from the original movie but also goes further with them, thanks to the CGI used, and makes many shrewd decisions throughout. The first, and perhaps shrewdest, decision is to make the main character of Sally (Bailee Madison) a little girl who has been sent to live with her father (Guy Pearce) and the new lady in his life (Katie Holmes) while they work on renovating an impressive old house. Making Sally a vulnerable little girl, also potentially prone to flights of fancy and some justified feelings of anger and frustration, really adds to the core element of the story – namely, a house full of dark-dwelling little creatures that cause mischief and, ultimately, outright terror. As odd things start to occur and the situation escalates, the father tries to rationalise everything with the sad realisation that perhaps his daughter just doesn’t like his new partner.
Anyone who is focused on the CGI aspect here, and resents the inclusion of it, should bear in mind that it allows the onscreen critters to be viewed in a way much more akin to the original vision of writer Nigel McKeand (who gets his original treatment adapted for the big screen by Matthew Robbins and Guillermo del Toro). It’s not entirely successful but works well enough to sell the concept, especially within the first half of the movie before everything comes out in the open, so to speak.
The acting from all concerned is pretty good, much better than it was in the original. Guy Pearce is, surprisingly, the weakest link as he’s saddled with the role of the man who fails to see anything strange happening in the house around him. Bailee Madison is fantastic in the central role, giving a natural and winning performance as a child initially enjoying something a bit mysterious and irrational before realising the horrible truth and being unable to convince others of the horrible reality. Katie Holmes is someone I haven’t always been a fan of but she suits this role really well (perhaps motherhood suits the lady more than the angsty teen pigeonhole she was stuck in for such a long time) and she gains sympathy easily as a “stepmother” trying to do her very best. Jack Thompson does okay as the handyman, Harris, but he’s not onscreen for all that long and the character seems to have been sidelined, he is the one who seems to be concerned before anyone notices anything strange happening and then he has served his purpose. And, as trite as it may seem, Neighbours fans may smile to see Alan Dale sharing the screen once more with Guy Pearce for one or two onscreen moments.
The script isn’t too bad, though if you think about the whole thing after the credits roll then there are many aspects that don’t make sense, and the direction by Troy Nixey doesn’t highlight his relative inexperience. Of course, that could be thanks to the helping hand of producer Guillermo del Toro. There’s a nice and nasty little prologue, a decent bit of build-up and then it all leads to a finale full of suspense and horror, just like the original, so no problems with the pacing. There is a little more detail given to the featured creatures this time around but it’s still far from a complete explanation and the mystery of just what they are and why they do what they do is still, to me, one of the more frightening aspects of the concept.
There may be just no pleasing fans of the original, no remake can ever reproduce the effect of that initial viewing when you were a certain age, but anyone going into this movie in a receptive mood will find that it’s an enjoyable little chiller, updated with tools from the modern-day toolbox but with a structure and tone retained from that 1973 TV movie. Which amounts to a good thing.
DIRECTOR: TROY NIXEY
WRITERS: MATTHEW ROBBINS, GUILLERMO DEL TORO (BASED ON THE SCREENPLAY BY NIGEL MCKEAND
STARS: BAILEE MADISON, KATIE HOLMES, GUY PEARCE, JACK THOMPSON
RUNTIME: 99 MINS APPROX