2017 | unrated (PG-13 equivalent) | directed by Drew Gabreski | 1hr 39mins |

2017 Halloween Horrorfest #4

The bar for entry in direct-to-video horror is pretty low. Get some B-movie actors and one minor celebrity, think up a title with some variation of death or darkness and put a monster on the poster art that isn’t in the movie. Be Afraid, despite being in the running for most generic horror title ever, swerves around each of the DTV conventions a bit, not enough to make a fresh and memorable movie, but enough to take note. There is talent buried somewhere in here.

Directed by Drew Gabreski, Be Afraid, doesn’t look bad and doesn’t sound bad. It looks as good as any network TV show, feels almost the same and has a nifty end title sequence set to a Bernard Hermann-esque string score. It moves at a solid pace, is over almost before you know it and has characters that seem to have had relationships before the first frame began. It’s the little things that make it, well, not bad.

Dr. John Chambers (B-movie actor Brian Krause, who looks like a soap opera actor version of Willem Dafoe), his wife (Jaimi Page) and young son move to a sleepy small Pennsylvania town where 5 years ago another family lost their daughter and spent the time since going mad trying to find her. The Chambers family will fall into horror movie templates with dad suspecting something is afoot (spontaneously suffering from nightmarish sleep paralysis), his wife insisting nothing is wrong and their child the target of the monster while he spends the film either in bed warning the adults or wandering off into the woods or toward a big, gaping whole in the side of a mountain. There is also prodigal son Ben (Jared Abrahamson) returning home after dropping out of college to woo the sheriff’s daughter and be the family rogue. The Ben story easily dovetails into the plight of the sheriff and his wife, played by the movie’s signed-on-to-get-the-film-made real character actors, Louis Hertham (Westworld) and Calle Thorne (Rescue Me), who have a history with the mysterious black creatures John and his son see in the middle of the night.

All of this is to say that despite some truly bad acting and thin characters, the movie actually does a pretty solid job of establishing everyone’s relationships in a realistic way and unfolding the plot naturally through them. For example, there is no artificial bully figure here who acts in an artificially monstrous way just to stand in the main characters way because the script requires it. The film feels lived in, the Chambers home feels like something the production took time to establish. It isn’t much, but in the realm of low-budget schlock cinema where all the focus usually goes on gore and monsters the movies show briefly in the dark, those touches keep the movie clicking along.

The film’s monster mythos is all pretty murky. While it doesn’t necessarily need to explain everything I would have like some conversation surrounding the dark creatures that seem to haunt the town out of the corner of everyone’s eye. Be Afraid doesn’t explain, but it also doesn’t fully commit to anything or really build to anything. The town seems to be invaded by The Hat Man, a Slenderman-like figure in a black coat and hat who attacks people when the power goes out – and the lights blink and flicker all over town. He also seems to have an army of blood ghouls with him who peel themselves out of the walls. It’s not entirely clear when and how they attack people and how they kill them, ripping them into the dark and sending a smattering of blood nearby. If it’s when the lights go out as is indicted, the movie doesn’t play with that motif Lights Out style.

It’s a real shame that this doesn’t go anywhere because the creature design and effects are actually very good. The movie even has one genuinely terrific horror sequence where everything comes together just perfectly. Young Nathan tries to get a photo of The Hat Man lurking in his closet which leads to a creepy smoke-filled slow motion chase down a hall, while his mother is being paralyzed by a creature creeping over the bathtub. For a moment there, Be Afraid becomes a really chilling horror show.

So the the third act rolls around, all the vagaries the movie doesn’t want to explore catch up to it and the story all but falls apart. Krause starts loading up the shotguns and screaming at the sheriff in a high-pitched performance that approaches Cary Ewles-in-Saw level camp and a climax in front of a giant hole fizzles. The ending is incredibly familiar and the climax is as anti-climactic as it comes. The film is out of ideas and probably out of money.

The subject of the chilling documentary, The Nightmare, sleep paralysis and the figures it conjures up are ripe horror movie monsters, but Be Afraid is a bit to scattershot and more concerned with setting up a town mystery than with exploring the nightly horrors. See The Nightmare instead. But with Afraid playing out like a mid-grade CW series, I’ve certainly seen worse in the horror schlock department. I’ve seen worse movies than this come out of big studios in the last year.