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Darkness Falls

  Darkness Falls
Emma Caulfield could really use Buffy right about now.

© 2003, Sony/Revolution
All Rights Reserved

More than 100 years ago, in the town of Darkness Falls, a kindly old lady, known as "The Tooth Fairy" (for her love of giving the local children coins for their baby teeth), was accused of murdering two missing kids. She was promptly hanged, and with her dying breath she cursed the town and swore to return. Now in the present day, a young woman named Caitlin (Emma Caulfield, TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") is dealing with her little brother's considerable fear of the dark. In despair, she calls her old friend Kyle (Chaney Kley, a poor man's James Van Der Beek), who was carted off long ago after encountering the ghostly apparition known as the "Tooth Fairy." As the sun slowly sets on the town, Kyle and Caitlin must fend off the vicious old lady, as she makes her seemingly annual return to the city to collect bodies and wreak havoc on the citizens.

"Darkness Falls" (IMDb listing) is another jog around the block of mid-tempo, PG-13 "horror" thrillers that have become all the rage recently. Due in part to the success of films like "The Others," the public now has to endure each studio trotting out screenplays that were clearly envisioned as R-rated fright fests, but have been watered down to the safer rating so the teens can enjoy them. Recent stabs at the genre have resulted in slack fare such as the unimpressive "The Ring" remake, and Dimension Films' November write-off, "They." "Darkness Falls" is cut directly from the same cloth, selling sizable mood and backstory, but failing to pay off any of its grandiose ideas with even the slightest wisp of inventiveness.

Directed by newcomer Jonathan Liebesman, "Darkness Falls" makes for a pretty weak calling card. A simplistic filmmaker who favors close-ups and confusion at every possible turn, he guides the film through familiar terrain. The cliches are all here, from the disbelieving hicks in local law enforcement and the use of loud shocks in place of true suspense (shades of "The Ring"), to the climactic use of the word "bitch" in dispatching a female antagonist. One could argue that Liebesman just didn't have much to work with, but one only needs to look to Bill Paxton's "Frailty" to see a film with no money create something disturbing without resorting to berserk cutting and parlor tricks.

I guess the most congratulatory thing I could say to Liebesman is that at least he keeps the film down to just a hair over 70 minutes, which is long enough for a film as formulaic and uneventful as this one.

And what do we make of the Tooth Fairy? A shadowy, floating beast, she's obviously been created with the hope of forming a new movie monster franchise, a la Freddy Kruger or Jason Voorhees. We don't see much of the Fairy, as Liebesman can't really go into details on the horror of the character without losing his precious PG-13 rating. He sprinkles a truckload of shock cuts of the monster throughout the film, but only in the end do we get to see what we're supposed to be afraid of, and even then the look is fleeting. It's a critical failure.

The most frustrating aspects of "Darkness Falls" are the ever-changing rules for the Tooth Fairy's existence. We're told in the opening reel that she has light sensitivity issues (i.e. she'll burst into flames if she touches light), with the rest of the film liberally switching around how severe those issues can get. One minute, old Toothy needs total darkness to strike, with the minor glow of a flashlight enough to repel her violent attacks. Then, later, we see her grab people during a very active lightning storm, or with ambient emergency lights shining. A film like "Darkness Falls" doesn't beg a lot of logic. Hell, this flick makes no sense at all, but I'm willing to play cards with a picture like this so long as it shows a little respect for the audience and its own rules. Much like the Tooth Fairy, "Darkness Falls" has no love for the public, and merely assumes the position of an allegedly "fun" b-level chiller that, due to the success of its recent brethren, has found itself with a wide release it was clearly not intended for.

Filmfodder Grade: D-

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