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Review by Dustin Putman
2½ stars out of 4
Being a lifelong fan of the horror genre, "Darkness Falls" is the
kind of film that I am torn on. My more critical side had red flags
going off throughout, noting that the characters were thoroughly one-dimensional
and flat, most of the performances were as lifeless as an embalmed
cadaver, and the narrative offered illogical plot gaps around every
corner. At little more than 75 minutes without the wildly protracted
end credits, the movie skips from its first act to its suspense-filled
climax in a mad rush to keep the action coming and the audience from
having time to think about how thin the whole thing is.
Meanwhile, the horror fan-boy in me cannot overlook the fact that,
as a purely visceral experience, "Darkness Falls" more than delivers
its fair share of seriously scary moments. As amateurish as first-time
director Jonathan Liebesman is with handling his performers and their
roles, he is a clear technical expert, heightening a distinguishable,
foreboding atmosphere while delivering thrills and chills at a clip rate.
Originally titled the more catchy, self-explanatory "The Tooth Fairy,"
"Darkness Falls" begins with a gloomy, sepia-toned prologue in which
the backstory of Matilda Dixon is told. In the town of Darkness Falls,
Maine, circa 1850, Matilda was a kindly old lady who would leave the
children of the town a gold coin in exchange for their baby teeth,
garnering her the "Tooth Fairy" nickname. After a fire left her skin
horribly burned and sensitive to light, Matilda hid behind a porcelain
mask, and she suddenly became an outcast. When two children came up
missing, the town wrongfully accused her of their kidnapping and promptly
executed her by hanging. Before her death, Matilda vowed that she
would seek her revenge on the town every time a child lost their final
baby tooth and dared to peek above their covers to see her.
Switch forward to modern times, the preteen Kyle Walsh (Joshua Anderson)
has just lost his final baby tooth and, in a sequence of pure terror
(not to mention the scariest in the whole movie), comes face-to-face
with the masked phantom. He ultimately survives by fleeing into a
well-lit bathroom, but witnesses the death of his mother.
Twelve years later, an adult Kyle (Chaney Kley), now living in Las
Vegas and still haunted by memories of the traumatic experience, is
contacted out of the blue by childhood sweetheart Caitlyn (Emma Caulfield).
It seems Caitlyn's 8-year-old brother, Michael (Lee Cormie), has been
hospitalized, deathly afraid of the dark, and Kyle is the only person
she can think of who may be able to understand and help Michael. Kyle
hardly has time to reacquaint himself with Caitlyn before the Tooth
Fairy has returned, hellbent on destroying anyone who gets in her
way of finishing the business she started with Kyle twelve years ago.
The general premise of introducing the Tooth Fairy as a murderous
villain is a novel, yet inevitable, one. There is something just awfully
creepy about the mythological figure--a fairy who breaks into children's
bedrooms as they sleep, leaving money under their pillow in exchange
for teeth. Unfortunately, this clever horror twist on the subject
of Matilda is forgotten about within the opening thirty minutes. She
simply becomes a horrifying, disfigured creature who flies through
the air, her swooping black cape swirling in the wind behind her,
killing pretty much anyone who happens to be in the wrong place at
the wrong time. The only way to be safe is to stay in the light--something
that becomes increasingly difficult for potential victims Kyle, Caitlyn,
and Michael when a power outage sweeps over the whole of Darkness Falls.
Because the lead characters and their relationships are nearly transparent,
and the rest of the cast are merely mince meat, it was actually a
wise choice to rush through the exposition and get to the action.
The movie, which is over in a veritable flash, is little more than
a prolonged chase sequence that hops from a police station to a hospital
to the town's seaside lighthouse. A picture like "Darkness Falls"
lives or dies based on its effectiveness, and director Jonathan Liebesmen
has concocted a serviceably suspenseful one, tautly edited by Steve
Mirkovich and Alan Woodruff. Because much of what transpires occurs
in complete darkness, cinematographer Dan Laustsen has done moody
wonders with every frame, keeping things just light enough to allow
viewers to see the action, and just dark enough to have them wondering
about what it was they have really seen. As for the Tooth Fairy, she
is the latest masterful creation from Stan Winston, wickedly gruesome
and threatening enoug! h to give anyone the goosebumps.
If only the lead actors held such close scrutiny. Chaney Kley (2001's
"Legally Blonde") and Emma Caulfield (TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"),
as Kyle and Caitlyn, are complete dullards until it comes time to
run for their lives and scream a whole bunch. The only line Caulfield
is able to sell with relish comes after a black cat has jumped out
and scared her. "A cat," she exasperatedly states before musing, "why
not?" As the young Michael, Lee Cormie is okay as he channels the
put-upon children from 1999's "The Sixth Sense" and 2002's "The Ring,"
but why they have cast an Australian child to unsuccessfully put on
an American accent is mindboggling. The best performances, surprisingly,
come from the young versions of Kyle and Caitlyn, played memorably
by newcomer Joshua Anderson and Emily Browning (2002's "Ghost Ship").
"Darkness Falls" is sloppy on the basic storytelling level--why, for
example, has Matilda waited 150 years to wipe out an entire police
station and hospital staff when her original goal was to go after
children, and how can she sometimes appear in brighter settings, while
other times can only strike in pitch blackness?--but its careless
inconsistencies are hardly worth noting in a film that has obviously
been made for strict entertainment purposes only. As such, it succeeds--for
horror buffs out for some cheap shocks. "Darkness Falls" is a zippy,
spooky, mostly goreless thriller that achieves what it set out to
do, and the character of the Tooth Fairy is a particularly memorable
and nightmarish new villain. The biggest jump-out-of-your-seat scare
is, fittingly, saved for last.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman