Exploring the fantasy world of a stricken child, AFRAID OF THE DARK offers potent testimony that the greatest horrors lurk in the imagination.
Eleven-year-old Lucas (Ben Keyworth) lies in bed listening to his father, Frank (James Fox), and blind mother, Miriam (Fanny Ardant), whisper about a slasher who has been razoring the faces of blind women. The following day, he accompanies his mother to her knitting class at the local clinic for
the blind where everyone is scared about the horrific incidents. Miriam asks him to escort her friend Rose (Clare Holman) to a photographer's (Paul McGann) studio where she is having her engagement portrait taken. After safely dropping her off, he catches sight of another blind woman having her
face cut through his telescope. Running home, he passes the clinic's window cleaner, the photographer and the clinic locksmith--all of them seem threatening, like culprits. He wanders out on the railroad tracks just as the slasher attacks someone else on a deserted train platform. That night,
Lucas, a compulsive explorer and sneak, slips out of his house. He passes the photo studio where the photographer is taking coerced pornographic shots of Rose. Suddenly the photographer pulls out a razor blade and lightly traces her face and body with it. Lucas dashes in and plunges the weapon
into the photographer's eye.
Lucas suddenly comes to--he's wearing thick glasses that make his deep brown eyes seem grotesquely large. It's all been an awful nightmare and his parents are actually whispering about the eye operation he needs. His half-sister, Rose, is fussing with a wedding gown, for it's her wedding day. No
one has any time for Lucas, especially as Miriam is very pregnant. During the wedding reception she goes into labor and she and Frank rush to the hospital leaving Lucas behind. The bride and groom depart as well, and in the confusion, someone steps on Lucas's glasses. Fortunately the optometrist
nearby gives him a new pair. Lucas makes his way home and a beloved neighborhood dog, Toby, tries to follow him inside. Lucas removes his glasses and suddenly the beast appears to be rabid and on the attack. Lucas plunges one of his mother's knitting needles into the dog's eye and it falls,
cracking its neck on the sidewalk.
Frank arrives home late to find the doors bolted and the house pitch dark. Lucas has put all the lightbulbs in the baby's crib. Miriam arrives with the newborn child, Tess, and admonishes Lucas to keep away, he's running a fever. Clutching a knitting needle, he snatches Tess and runs into the
graveyard next door. A gang of blind people chase him--his mother and father, the photographer, the window cleaner and others. Just as he lifts the needle he wakes up in an operating room. He can see. His parents visit his hospital room and lay baby Tess in his arms. Lucas looks into their pale,
tired faces and asks, "Did I kill Toby?"
AFRAID OF THE DARK is a taut, intelligent pyschodrama that pulls the audience into Lucas's deluded state of not being able to distinguish between nightmare and reality. Mark Peploe, the screenwriter best known for his collaborations with Antonioni and Bertolucci (THE PASSENGER and THE LAST
EMPEROR, respectively), carefully measures his pace and shrewdly ignores American horror conventions, suggesting violence rather than covering the screen in gore and restricting the plot to the true realm of endless possibilities, the human mind, rather than resorting to absurd jaunts into the
supernatural. He also cannily employs ubiquitous symbols of domesticity--knitting needles, toys, a newborn child--and common fears--blindness, abandonment, being watched--to create an unusually chilling film. Aside from James Fox's wooden performance all the other principals are intense and
convincing--especially the luminous Fanny Ardant and Clare Holman in their deft switches between blind and sighted characters. Young Ben Keyworth is truly disturbing as Lucas. His deadpan performance is trimmed with a terrifying edge of repressed pyschosis.
Because AFRAID OF THE DARK is so engrossing, it's easy to ignore certain incongruities, first in a logic that does not succeed in linking its themes of voyeurism, oedipal complexes and fear of physical harm and then those in Lucas's overly mature imagination. The perversions he dreams up are far
too sophisticated for a little boy. Nonetheless, AFRAID OF THE DARK does its job as a horror film and makes one consider some difficult and ugly issues as well. (Violence, nudity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: Exploring the fantasy world of a stricken child, AFRAID OF THE DARK offers potent testimony that the greatest horrors lurk in the imagination. Eleven-year-old Lucas (Ben Keyworth) lies in bed listening to his father, Frank (James Fox), and blind mother, M… (more)