Sure, it's a Hollywood flick, and yeah, it does feature Katie "Mrs. Tom Cruise" Holmes, but we’ve got a fine reason to pick this movie (aside from the fact that it’s a pet project of the brilliant Guillermo Del Toro—its director, Troy Nixey, is from Saskatoon!
Below is an interview intrepid Planet Smovie reviewer Jorge conducted with Nixey on the eve of his baby’s worldwide opening--and here's a link to the creepy trailer!
Handpicked by Guillermo Del Toro to direct Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Saskatoon’s Troy Nixey says the city shaped his artistic sensibility.
After watching Nixey’s short Latchkey’s Lament, Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) chose him to helm a pet project of his, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. A remake of the TV movie of the same name, the horror film has a high-profile cast (Katie Holmes, Guy Pierce) and the endorsement of the geek community, for whom Del Toro is basically a god.
Nixey remembers that call, four years ago: “I had reached out to Guillermo early on about Latchkey’s Lament. He was very encouraging and asked me to let him know when the short was done. All I wanted was a little feedback. Eventually, Guillermo watched it and asked me to call him, and he told me about a movie he wrote with Matthew Robbins. He was looking for a first time director and added I may have what it takes — and you could have knocked me over with a feather at that moment. I was in downtown Vancouver, surrounded by business people having lunch, and I had no one to tell! They wouldn’t understand!”
Nixey was raised in Saskatoon, and his first artistic inclination was the comic book world. Not shockingly, one of his best friends is Marvel cartoonist and fellow Toontown resident Kaare Andrews.
“[Saskatoon] gave me a lot of time to draw in the winter, and it’s not the most expensive city in the world, so I could focus in my comics and still pay the rent. It allowed me the opportunity to find my artistic voice”.
The success of the film passes for the design of the creatures that terrorize the little girl, Sally. How did you settle for a specific look?
The script establishes that they’re horrible, awful, vile little things, so the goal became to make them look as though they were coming from a fairy tale, but also grounded in reality. I pulled a lot from nature for inspiration, in this case in particular, from mole rats — Guillermo jokes I sent him the ugliest photo of a hairless Chihuahua he has ever seen. I wanted the creatures to have wrinkled skin, and be able to stand on two legs even though they’re far more mobile on all fours. As a nod to the original, I kept the head shape and added hair on their backs.
I liked the touch of the creatures hunting for children’s teeth.
Across the board, culturally, teeth are a very sensitive thing. Everybody cringes at it. In Marathon Man, I couldn’t watch that scene in which Dustin Hoffman gets his teeth pulled out. The opening scene in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark heavily involves teeth and people remember it as far more gory than it actually is. Everybody fills in the gaps with their imagination.
Speaking of gory, your film was rated R in the U.S. even though you were aiming for a PG-13. Are you disappointed?
I’ve been watching other PG-13 movies that came out this year and they show people getting vaporized and blown up. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark doesn’t have any sex, there’s no swearing, not much gore… but the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) has very strict guidelines about the level of terror a kid can undergo in a movie and still get a PG-13 rating. When we sent them the movie, they were like, “No, no, no, you guys aren’t even close.” There was no way to dial that back without hurting the movie.
Had you know you were getting an “R” regardless, would you have done anything different?
No. It’s not like I wasn’t worried about the rating. There’s a scene in which the creatures jump on the little girl and we knew we couldn’t scratch her, or had any blood on her, or have big rips on her clothes. But I felt we didn’t have to go any further to achieve the level of fear I was aiming for.
For a twelve million dollar movie, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a gorgeous film (as a reference, Conan the Barbarian cost 90 million dollars and we all know how that turned out.
“I’m first and foremost a storyteller. That’s where the movies and the comic books come from. But I’m also a very visual guy, and I love creating worlds. One of the traits that attracted Guillermo to me is also one of the reasons I like his movies — there’s no detail too small. We love filling the screen with beautiful sets and colors. Our goal was that the audience wanted to be inside the house, regardless of all the bad things that kept happening there.”
The casting of Sally, the young girl who interacts with the creatures, was critical for the movie to work. How did you settle for Bailee Madison (Just Go with It)?
I think I looked at every seven to 11 year old girl in North America. Bailee came later in the casting, just after working with Natalie Portman in Brothers. She blew me away.
As a first-time feature film director, what surprised you the most about the gig?
How much it takes from you mentally, emotionally and physically — I think I lost 15 to 20 pounds during the shoot. But it’s an amazing experience — it can be the best and worst experience in the world within thirty seconds. /Jorge Ignacio Castillo
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