There's one thing you can always count on in a horror movie nowadays: a father who's kind of a jerk. Everybody else in the family knows there's something supernatural going on, but the dad refuses to believe it. And acts like a total schmuck about it, too.
Judging by the trailer and preview clips, Guillermo del Toro's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark fully conforms to this trend. So when we got a moment to talk to director Troy Nixey and star Guy Pearce, we had to ask them: Why are dads in recent horror movies such jerks?
Seriously, think about it. In Paranormal Activity 2, Dan's girlfriend and daughter know that there's something screwy going on — it's even captured on all the security cameras, ferchrissake. But Dan gets more obnoxious, the more evidence they confront him with. In Insidious, Josh tries to throw the nice medium lady out of his house when she comes out with proof that he and his son can astral project — and Josh basically dismisses all the evidence that his wife brings him, earlier in the film. In The Last Exorcism, the girl's dad is basically just a crazy nutpants.
And then there's Don't Be Afraid. When we asked Guy Pearce about this at San Diego Comic-Con, he said, "I don't watch enough horror movies to know... maybe that's where all horror movie ideas come from, from kids who aren't respected by their fathers. Maybe there's something in that."
He explains why his character is a jerk in Don't Be Afraid:
It's just like seriously bad timing... I didn't want to make [the dad] just be a dick, I wanted to give him a justified reason for being too consumed with his own stuff. And you know, he's on the verge of losing his career. So we really needed it to be justified. And so you know you feel for the plight of Bailee [Madison], who plays Sally in the film. And hopefully, on some level, you try and understand why he is the way he is with her. He's a dick, but there's hopefully some reason behind it.
And Pearce explains that his character is an architect, who can only restore his career by restoring "the greatest house in the town and really bring it back to life and really make a mark. And so this is a last-ditch effort for him to really get back on track." The dad's "worst nightmare initially is that his daughter is thrust upon him and he has to take care of her all of a sudden." And of course, he doesn't believe the monsters in the film are real. What's the underlying message of Don't Be Afraid? "It's more of a comment on overpopulation, and people having kids for the wrong reasons."
Director Troy Nixey says he really doesn't know why horror-movie dads are jerks. In the case of Guy Pearce's character, it makes sense for him not to believe his daughter, because little kids are always making up stories. And they tried to put a lot of nuance into the character, and show that he just doesn't know how to be a father.
Nixey adds that the little girl's relationship with her two parents, and her father's girlfriend, is at the heart of the movie.
What I think worked really well in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is we have this little girl who is obviously lost between her two parents, and then the relationship with the girlfriend... that's such a strong relationship of this other adult who had no intention of being a parent at all, who has no biological connection to this kid, is sort of forced into that role. Whether it was a father or a mother, didn't really matter at the end of the day, but that it was this really strong connection between an adult and a child. But as far as why fathers are dicks, I don't know.
Nixey says that the key to adapting an obscure 1970s TV movie into a major feature film is to get Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins to write the script. "Guillermo's loved the movie from a kid and carried it all the way through, and yeah, he wrote the script 13, 15 years ago. And then it really sort of became a Guillermo del Toro movie in the sense of what he brought to it, [how] he enhanced the original TV movie, which obviously had some... restrictions [due to being a TV movie]. So it's just a matter of really great source material, a really great script, and then lots and lots of imagination." And he says they were "very respectful" towards the original TV movie, keeping a lot of elements, like the whispering, the size of the creatures, the shape of their faces, and the hair and stuff.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark comes out this Friday.