Friday, January 31, 2003

Darkness Falls / ** (2003)

"Darkness Falls" is a movie about every familiar idea and plot technique that has ever been seen in a horror film, stretched by lots of dark moments of swift and incoherent action and a soundtrack loud enough to keep even those who would like to doze off wide awake for the halfhearted thrill ride. Depending exclusively on countless endeavors of the past to emit its energy, the picture would serve as a worthwhile experience only to those who have never seen a horror movie in their life. Here, characters tend to walk through scenes like they're being warned of impending danger, and then are captured and crushed by an unseen flying spirit almost on cue, as if it's all supposed to be genuinely scary.

Actually, it's not very scary at all. We are not scared of vague shadows who simply whisk through camera shots and scream like banshees with P.M.S. We are not scared by ghosts who wear masks that look like they belong to Michael Myers. We aren't scared when creatures who pass only through darkness are conveniently granted citywide blackouts. And we aren't scared when people venture into the shadows when they know darn well that they have no business doing so. This is all simply not frightening, nor jolting, nor even intellectually stimulating anymore. The power of the visual is grand thing, but not when it has been seen so many times in so many better ways before. Audience's simply don't buy it.

The movie opens with a voice-over narration that describes a series of past events leading up to the current narrative dilemma. In the town of Darkness Falls (yes, that's actually the town's name), a lovely old woman named Matilda Dixon once collected the baby teeth of the town's children and gave them treasures in exchange for them. As a result of her widely-accepted habit, she garnered the nickname of the "Tooth Fairy," which stuck with her even after a house fire left her brutally scarred and hidden behind a white face mask. Later, she was falsely accused by townsfolk of murdering two missing boys and executed. Before her death, she vowed to take vengeance on the town of Darkness Falls and all its inhabitants in death, where she would continue her saga as the Tooth Fairy and punish those who dared to look on her when she came to collect their last baby teeth. Or something like that.

The plot deals with a specific victim to this curse: Kyle Walsh (played in the early scenes by Joshua Anderson, later by Chaney Kley), a lad who, when he lost his last baby tooth, foolishly looked at the Tooth Fairy during her obligatory visit. Kyle survived the jolting confrontation, but his mother, who passed into the dark room to assure her son that the vision was all in his mind, wasn't so lucky. Experts and town residents for 12 long years believed the murder was committed by Kyle himself, but when the younger brother of his old high school sweetheart begins having nightmares and claims that the Tooth Fairy is out to get him too, the town of Darkness Falls turns upside down and Walsh is forced to return home to confront the demons of his past. Or something like that.

The screenplay, ironically credited with three different writers, has little difficulty in feeding off solid horror films of the past. Products like "A Nightmare on Elm Street," "The Blair Witch Project" and even "Candyman" are invaded like unprotected banks by anxious mobsters, robbed of crucial plot points and character decisions almost directly. This might have been a forgivable characteristic had the writers known what to do with the material, but they simply throw it on screen without much forethought. Lots of images flash across the screen—most of them muddled and dark—but there's no kind of subtext to get the viewer engaged beyond the thin exterior. The movie has no kind of depth or resonance whatsoever.

Not only does "Darkness Falls" lack narrative shape, it refuses to even make much sense. Why, for instance, does this famous Tooth Fairy occasionally take the life of a person who has not laid eyes on her when it's made clear early on that she only victimizes those who do? Does she travel to seek vengeance on those who have moved outside of Darkness Falls? And where exactly is Darkness Falls, anyway? To ask any of these questions is to defeat the purpose of the movie even existing, but I guess that's to be expected with any movie that demands us to accept tooth fairies as antagonists.

The director is Jonathan Liebesman, who, with a cast of unknowns at his disposal, at least doesn't go overboard in his delivery of a weak and unsatisfying plot (note the movie's brief running time of 75 minutes, for instance). Reportedly, the movie is actually based on a widely embraced short film called "The Tooth Fairy" in which case the premise probably didn't always seem like a bad idea. It's just a shame, though, that a picture with enough nerve to steal so much from so many other movies couldn't at least muster up the courage to actually do something with the material it had at its disposal. It's tangible, after all, to believe a genuine fright-fest could result from this kind of foundation. Or something like that.

Written by DAVID KEYES

Cast & Crew info:
Chaney Kley: Kyle Walsh
Emma Caulfield: Caitlin 'Cat' Greene
Joshua Anderson: Young Kyle Walsh
Andrew Bayly: Officer Andy Batten
Emily Browning: Young Caitlin Greene
Antony Burrows: The Tooth Fairy
Lee Cormie: Michael Greene
Peter Curtin: Dr. Travis
Daniel Daperis: Young Lary Fleishman

Produced by Lou Arkoff, Derek Dauchy, Irene Dobson, John Fasano, John Hegeman, William Sherak and Jason Shuman; Directed by Jonathan Liebesman; Screenwritten by Joe Harris John Fasano and James Vanderbilt

Horror (US); Rated PG-13 for terror and horror images, and brief language; Running Time - 75 Minutes

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