A scene from 'Darkness Falls'
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** stars
76 minutes | Rated: PG-13
Opened: Friday, January 24, 2003
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman

Starring Chaney Kley, Emma Caulfield, Andrew Bayly, Emily Browning, Joshua Anderson, Lee Cormie, Peter Curtin, Daniel Daperis


Lights out to get the best out of this movie's cheap spooks.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 04.22.2003

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Formulaic execution of a new horror movie idea is evidence that the genre has gotten long in the tooth

By Rob Blackwelder

If the writers, producers or director of "Darkness Falls" would have held themselves to a higher standard than just recycling the same cheap, soundtrack-aided horror movie jump-frights that have made the genre so tiresome, this movie might have been a real goosepimpler.

Its recasting of the Tooth Fairy as a bloodthirsty specter hunting the kids of a small town is creepy enough that the most bone-chilling line in the movie is, "Remember, when the Tooth Fairy comes, don't peek!" After that, simply the sight of a child setting a tooth on his dresser at bedtime is enough to get your anxiety flowing (not to mention your curiosity wondering what kind of twisted stage mother lets her little kid star in a horror movie).

But acting on the assumption that their target audience doesn't care about anything except a handful of popcorn-spilling jolts, neither director Jonathan Liebesman nor any of the film's three writers put much effort toward creating a good scary movie. They dropped a new supernatural, masked killer under the hood of the same old jalopy and put the pedal to the metal.

According to the picture's introduction, the Tooth Fairy haunting a small town called Darkness Falls is the ghost of a disfigured but once-kindly woman (she gave kids coins when they lost their teeth) who was wrongly accused of abducting two children in the 1850s. The day after a mob lynched her -- and tore off the porcelain mask she used to protect her sensitive scars from burning sunlight -- the two kids turned up safe and sound. And the woman's ghost has haunted the children of Darkness Falls ever since. Anyone who sees her gets slaughtered.

Generic newcomer Chaney Kley plays Kyle, a guy who spent 12 years in institutions and on anti-psychotics after the Tooth Fairy gored his mom on the night he lost his last baby tooth. Kyle has returned to Darkness Falls to help his childhood sweetheart Caitlin ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer's" Emma Caufield) protect her 10-year-old brother, who has seen the Tooth Fairy and survived to become a hospitalized paranoid insomniac.

Despite the fact that there have been hundreds of brutal unsolved murders in Darkness Falls over the last 150 years (most of which must have been kids), nobody believes Kyle or the boy until they see the ghost themselves -- which, of course, means they're killed almost immediately. Yet somehow the Tooth Fairy hasn't been able to get to Kyle since he saw her 12 years before.

Since the Tooth Fairy still can't stand the light (although for some reason she's not bothered by lightning), most of the movie takes place during a nighttime power outage in Darkness Falls. Not even the supposedly top-notch hospital where Caitlin's little brother is being treated has a backup generator (although, miraculously, the elevators still work), so most of the movie consists of our heroes trying to stay safe from the Tooth Fairy in what little light they can find.

The logic of the movie's legend soon falls apart since the ghost obviously has to come into some light in order for anyone to see her and get killed. I understand there's a check-your-brain factor here and I'm probably over-thinking this. But the fact is, the people who made "Darkness Falls" didn't even bother to plug such obvious plot holes because they just didn't care if this movie was any good or not. They didn't care about acting ability, either. Everyone is so bland it's hard to care if they live or die. All the filmmakers cared about was making a cheap movie with a large profit margin.

That's a shame because all the elements for a good horror movie are here. The concept is novel, as horror movies go. The Tooth Fairy herself (a creation of creature king Stan Winston) is a frightful sight as she swoops out of the darkness in her cracked porcelain mask and flowing, tattered black robes. The groaning, rattling sound effects that accompany her are by themselves enough to make the skin crawl.

But "Darkness Falls" depends on the same old horror movie stupidity to keep its story on track. In fact, it's so unoriginal in its execution that it serves to prove two things: 1) this genre is played out, and 2) as long as crap makes money, studios will continue to make crap.


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