Big Drama At Closing Night Of L.A. Film Fest

2011 Los Angeles Film Festival Winners

The closing-night film of the 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, was designed to scare the crap out of the audience. But who knew the real nightmares would come from the actual screening itself.

Just an hour into the world premiere of the movie Sunday night the Regal L.A. Live theater, the emergency warning system started flashing lights accompanied by a siren-like noise and an announcement that audience members should vacate the premises immediately due to an “emergency in the building.” Everyone got up and marched outside before the all-clear was quickly declared (a false alarm), the auditorium filled again and the film restarted at the crucial point it left off. And you wonder why producers get ulcers.

But THAT was nothing compared to the nightmare end of the movie that surrounded audience members from that screening (and the overflow house upstairs) who simultaneously had to retrieve their cellphones and BlackBerrys that had been seized for fear of piracy when they entered the theater. The crush as final credits rolled was mammoth as theater personnel slowly took claim tickets and acted like they were on a scavenger hunt. The guy searching for my phone finally came back and rather pathetically asked me, ‘Uh, what color is it?’ to which I replied ‘Black,’ like every single other friggin’ one there.

FilmDistrict (which is releasing the film Aug. 26) distribution honcho Bob Berney came over during the forced intermission of the showing to say that co-writer/producer Guillermo del Toro thought the unplanned interruption was the dirty work of Bob Weinstein or the MPAA (which gave his film an unwanted ‘R’ rating for “violence and terror,” particularly since it involved a minor, according to Berney).

At any rate, the terrifying film, about a young girl tortured by ugly gremlin-like creatures in her home, seemed to grab the closing-night audience despite all the distractions, although the couple sitting next to me split when the emergency lights came on halfway through and never returned. The movie is one of those where the adults are clueless, and you wonder why don’t they just f***ing move out of the old dark house rather than subject themselves to constant terror (particularly for the kid), but that’s half the fun of these things I guess. We’re not talking Oscar contender here like del Toro’s classic Pan’s Labyrinth, but it definitely delivers the jolts. Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce and young Bailee Madison (Brothers) star. Madison and Holmes did the red carpet beforehand (Holmes’ husband Tom Cruise did not attend).

When I caught up with del Toro at the Club Nokia after-party, he seemed in a very good mood despite the drama surrounding the screening. He said he was perplexed by the ‘R’ rating slapped on his film (although in the first five minutes a chambermaid has her teeth sledgehammered out of her mouth) since he thinks his film isn’t remotely as offensive or grossly violent as hard-core horror movies (perhaps like Saw or Hostel) that received the same classification. That’s true, but who can EVER figure out the thinking of the MPAA ratings board?

Earlier in the day, del Toro, who was also serving as a “guest director” of the fest, had hosted a super-rare screening of a flick he believes has never been shown in America: Italian helmer Pupi Avati’s 1996 thriller The Arcane Enchanter, which the extremely movie-savvy del Toro told me instantly landed a place of honor in the top 20 horror films he has ever seen.

Berney, who also was at LAFF a few days earlier for the North American premiere of FilmDistrict’s Cannes sensation Drive, told me he thinks this hometown fest has come a long way in gaining industry acceptance and was a great way to launch two of their prestigious films in America. Ex-Sony mover and shaker and GK Films president Peter Schlessel is a key force behind the films now making the emerging FilmDistrict a major player in the indie world. Their spring releases Insidious and Soul Surfer both made waves at the box office on relative modest investments.

LAFF director Rebecca Yeldham and artistic director David Ansen seemed very pleased with this year’s lineup when I caught up with them at the after-party. Just before the Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark premiere, I attended a small Sundance Selects dinner at L.A. Live’s Katsuya restaurant honoring stunning French star Ludivine Sagnier, who was at the fest co-starring in two hot titles: The Devil’s Double (Lionsgate; it bows July 29), which could be awards fodder for star Dominic Cooper playing dual roles, and Love Crime (Sundance Selects; it bows Sept. 2), which co-stars Kristin Scott Thomas in a French thriller that is reportedly already tapped for an American remake I hear with Brian De Palma behind the camera. Sagnier heads back to Paris after a press day on Monday still reeling from the nonstop LAFF schedule, but she seemed excited by the reception she has received here.

Earlier Sunday, I caught the multi-talented Vera Farmiga’s directorial debut, Higher Ground, at the fest. At the post-screening Q&A, Farmiga gave total credit to her Up In The Air supporting actress Oscar nomination for finally getting the long-in-gestation project made about the complications in the life of a female Christian fundamentalist (she also stars in it). Sony Pictures Classics releases at the end of August. Certainly Higher Ground merits serious Independent Spirit Award consideration if not award contests on even higher ground than that.

  1. Lose the first five minutes of the film. They feel tagged on anyway, since they do not further the story in any way and feel out of tone with the rest of the film. Even worse, the beginning is putting an emphasis on the house and on the creatures, whereas the rest of the film is about the little girl. If you left off the first minutes the film would work better because you couldn’t be sure, if the creatures are just part of the girl’s imagination (which would explain why the grown ups don’t just move away, btw.). Granted, it would be slower and more of mystery than a horror film, but it would be all for the better (and they would get a better rating, I’m sure).

  2. In my preferred multiplex staffers are still checking the bags for cameras before they let you in. They will, however, let you keep your cellphone – you know, the one with that perfectly viable HD cam. Weird.

  3. Excessive unjustifiable violence and sex is the sad continuity of movies churned out in Hollywood and elsewhere. It is making people change into mercenaries and lives into living immorally. Its true and if you disagree with me,the terrorist have won.

  4. A chambermaid gets her teeth sledgehammered and Del Toro doesn’t understand why his film received an ‘R’?!?! As far as I’m concerned, any act of grotesque violence, particularly toward women and children, should get an automatic X rating. These are the types of film that contribute to the societal atrocities we witness in the news around the World. Make Love, not Violence!!!

    1. I totally agree with you. Before film came along there was no violence in this world. Damn those Frenchies.

      1. If there was no violence before film, what how would you label Jack the Ripper, Hannibal “the great,” The Crusades, The Inquisition, the brutality against American Indians from 1600s-1900s, Imperialism in general…. I could name thousands more examples.

        Throughout history, there has been violence in this world ranging from serial killers to international conflict. Film isn’t t blame, it’s mankind.

        1. Erm, I think Ben was being sarcastic towards the first, ridiculous comment? Unless you are too!

    2. People have done the most horrid things to other people ever since man walked the earth. Whose fault was it back then? The guy painting the cave walls with graphic acts of violence?

    3. I agree. It’s been proven beyond reasonable doubt that Pulp Fiction caused the situation in Darfur. But Hollywood just doesn’t seem to care.

  5. Agreed with the poster that said they should lose the beginning. Personally, I thought the first half dragged, so the “intermission” was a welcome distraction. Not one of Del Toro’s better efforts.

  6. I have no idea how good this movie is taken on its own, but it would be hard to top the low-budget, dark, dank horror of the original. Horror is a genre where more money generally does not improve a film.

  7. Breaking out at this festivals was NATURAL SELECTION, which took one of the HANGOVER staples from the first movie and really showed the depth of her range. AN ORDINARY FAMILY by straight guy team about a Priest’s brother who comes out was interesting. DRIVE ruled the fest by showcasing Ryan Gosling as a driving force for New Hollywood free range male magnetism. The panels rocked, but the confiscating of technology INCLUDING JOURNALISTS’ COMPUTERS was egregious and un believable!

    Also the scanning and re-scanning of badges, the blocking of filmmakers — actually filmmakers — from the Jameson “Filmmaker” Lounge based on having non-scannable badges was ridiculous.

    LAFF needs to lighten up on its press and attendees so that these people can do their creative jobs.

  8. Same thing happened at a recent press screening of “Bad Teacher” at the Landmark Theatres in Westwood. Luckily it happened 45 seconds before the film ended. Is this a new trend in screenings?

  9. Bob Berney is an idiot. The fact that he would repeat that Guillermo thought that Harvey or the MPAA were behind the “interruption” is absurd. A rookie move by a supposed “Pro.” I would be pissed if I were Guillermo.

    P.S. Over the years, I’ve been to a few premieres and film festival screenings where a fire alarm went off or the theatre was evacuated for some other reason. As annoying as it was, we were all always relieved that they were false alarms. Guess Harvey and the MPAA were to blame for those too.

  10. Listen, I love a Bob Weinstein conspiracy story as much as the next guy, but DBAOTD was a Miramax film made well after he and Harvey sold the name off to Disney. Why in the world would he aim to sabotage that screening?

  11. After watching the film last night, I thought del Toro was kidding when he commented in his opening speech about not knowing why the film got an R rating.

    I enjoyed the film and agree that it’s not at a Saw or Hostel level, but really?… between the sledgehammering of teeth, an old man getting sliced up head to toe by angry gnome things and someone’s leg getting snapped backwards in a closeup… I think there’s plenty to warrant the R-rating.

    P.S. I agree with the author of the post… the cellphone line was HORRIBLE

  12. EVERY THEATRE CHAIN should implement the protocol of not allowing ANY cell phones into the theatre.

  13. I just find it ironic that this is the ANOTHER movie with Katie Holmes in it that had ‘issues’ during it’s premiere. Thank You For Smoking, and there is another one that I can’t remember for the life of me now. All seems a tad suspicious to me.

  14. @Skippy — you’re exactly right. With horror, more money does NOT improve a film (or at least none that I know of). Great horror is mostly about what’s unseen, and you can’t CGI the unseen.

  15. To both the writer of this article and those of you commenting, I really wish you’d stop calling this a Del Toro movie and/or comparing it to Pan’s Labyrinth. Are you aware that Del Toro did not direct this?

    Ignorance is one thing but for the article itself to not even name TROY NIXEY (who is making his feature directing debut with this film) is downright disrespectful to an artist who has worked hard and who is a real talent worth watching.

    Once again, the director is TROY NIXEY. Google him. Even better, search out his short film “Latchkey’s Lament” and you’ll see just how talented he is and why Del Toro pounced on him to direct “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”.

  16. the incident that triggered the fire alarm was the burning of popcorn at the concession stand

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