What is it about basements, old manors, and dark corridors that cause the dark side of our imaginations to soar? It would seem that most horrors seem to inhabit these places; common sense would tell you not to go in there, not to go were the light is scarce because there might be something creeping in the shadows. Something you can’t quite explain, and that most people won’t believe is there.
As a rule of thumb, you should not move to an old manor who’s previous resident disappeared after allegedly going insane. But alas, 10-year-old Sally (Bailee Madison) and her father (Guy Pierce) move into such a place. Bad idea.
Sally’s father has purchased an old New England manor in which he hopes Sally will like living. His plan is to renovate it, wit he help of his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes), and later sell it at enough profit to put their business back on track. To be honest, even if this house wasn’t haunted it is still not a good time to enter the real estate market. But, when was the last time a horror movie character ever answered to reason.
The relationship between Sally and her father is somewhat cold and distance. It is quite clear that she much rather be with her obsessive-compulsive mother back in LA; neither of them sound like the ideal parents. Sally simply tells Kim “my mom gave me to my dad”. Kim is sympathetic but somewhat torn; she is not ready to be a stepmother.
To help her adapt to her new home, Sally’s father allows her to wander around the manor and its gardens alone. Keeping in the tradition of a Del Toro fairytale, Sally is a curious and inquisitive child. It does not take long for Sally to discover a hidden basement. If someone went through the trouble of walling up a basement of this size, chances are they were hoping to keep you out of there. Or worse, keep something locked up in there. Perhaps both.
It is not long before Sally realizes there might be other residents in Blackwood Manor. She warns her father, and Kim. But who is going to believe poor little Sally?
When the young Steven Spielberg was offered the screenplay for Jaws, his condition for accepting the offer was that he would direct as long as he didn’t have to show the shark for the first hour. It is a brilliant tool. And Troy Nixey, the director of this film, keeps us on the edge of our seat as he very slowly introduces the manor’s other inhabitants. Had it not been done this way, these creatures could not have been as terrifying.
This is the haunted house genre at its best; the type that makes you believe that there are indeed things that go bump at night. It knows how to play with the audience, how to build up its apprehension, and squeeze out its fear of the dark. Del Toro says that the original film is what first inspired him to divulge into horror films. I didn’t see the original, but if it is anything like this one, I can see why.