by Dan Fields
First published August 27, 2011 by the California Literary Review
Right Ingredients, Wrong Temperature
Sally has problems. Being passed back and forth between her worthless parents has put her on an anti-depression med at age eight. She has been sent to a scary old house, to live with her dad and his new girlfriend (architect and interior designer) while they restore the old homestead to sell it. If there is one thing this girl needs, it is a whimsical adventure. And she will soon get one, though she may regret it later.
Little does she know, for example, that many years ago in the basement of the house, a man knocked out a lady’s teeth with a chisel to appease something hideous living in a tunnel under the house. Don’t worry. This is the first scene of the film, which primes one to expect much more out of the remaining story. But no, things plod along for a while after this, as Sally explores the grounds of the house to avoid her career-focused dad (Guy Pearce) and her on-deck stepmom (Katie Holmes). She manages to stumble upon the bricked-up basement, which the groundskeeper (Jack Thompson of Breaker Morant fame) warns the family away from in the strongest terms. Obviously he knows something sinister. Nobody listens, of course, least of all Sally, and soon she finds herself tormented by a hive of small, wicked creatures who want only one thing… Sally.
Everything seems right about the setup. In a refreshing change from the norm, Sally is the kind of character who does not falter at reaching or peering into dark places. She seems to be intelligent and adventurous, never giving a thought to the possibility of monsters. This causes us much anxiety on her behalf, as we know something is lurking before she does. And when she does find out, all the natural fears of childhood come crashing in on her. Something that can only exist in the dark wants to take her away, and if necessary will drive her insane to do it. So what went wrong?