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DARKNESS FALLS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Chaney Kley, Emma Caulfield, Lee Cormie
Director:  Jonathan Liebesman
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Pan & Scan 1.33:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  86 Minutes
Release Date:  April 22, 2003

“This thing’s gonna kill us, isn’t it?”

“Probably.”

“All this over a f—king tooth.”

Film **

As a horror fan, I had high hopes for Darkness Falls, but it turned out to be just another fairly standard entry in the genre.  The problem is, the more you know and love horror movies, the more standard feels like substandard.

I was actually warm to the idea of making the tooth fairy the villain of the piece…after all, horror has been kind enough to ascribe supernatural or psychotic murderous traits to the likes of leprechauns, Santa Claus and others.  And by the way, if there hasn’t been a horror film yet to feature the Easter Bunny, there needs to be.

In one of those familiar opening narrative segments, we learn the legend of the tooth fairy…how once upon a time, a kindly woman named Matilda Dixon used to give local children gold coins for their fallen out baby teeth, until a terrible accident in her home left her horribly burned and disfigured and unable to tolerate the light, and until she was wrongfully accused of foul play in the disappearance of two kids and hanged.  By the time her innocence was discovered, it was too late…she placed a curse upon her town of Darkness Falls, promising to visit every child who lost his or her last tooth!

Flash forward to a young boy who has lost his last tooth.  Something does indeed come for him, but he manages to outsmart it, so it kills his mother instead.  Left orphaned and with everybody believing HE committed the murder, he is sent off into foster care to grow up.

Flash forward even further and that boy, Kyle (Kley…an anagram!) has grown up and returned to Darkness Falls at the behest of his childhood sweetheart Caitlin (Caulfield), whose little brother Michael (Cormie) has lost his last tooth and is now seeing terrible things and afraid of the dark.  Though nobody could believe Kyle’s story for years, now it may be the only hope of saving young Michael.

But as we already knew, the legend turns out to be real.  Soon, Matilda is back with a vengeance, determined to take not only Michael, but Kyle as well…and heck, anybody else who gets in the way.

The inherent problem with this movie is the same one most modern horror films share:  it doesn’t know how to scare, only to startle.  I’ve frankly lost my patience with films that can’t do more than make a sudden loud noise every few minutes or so, or to have something suddenly jump out at you when four times out of five, it’s a false alarm.  Or films that telegraph their next move by characters saying lines like, “See?  There’s nothing to be afraid of.”  Can you guess what happens next?

First time feature director Jonathan Liebesman fell into the same traps most horror filmmakers fall into.  He invokes energy instead of atmosphere, he uses one assault after another in place of suspense, and maintains such a kinetic pace that the audience never has time to feel apprehension or to ponder the scenarios that are presented us.

That being said, the film isn’t a total loss.  A couple of great set pieces that emphasize action over horror are smartly done.  One involves escaping from a hospital where the power is slowly going out, leaving less and less lit areas for the characters to hide in.  Another is the climax in a lighthouse, which works up until the point where the filmmakers have nowhere left to go with Matilda, so they double-back across their own established mythology for a cheap finale.

Liebesman is young, and the faults in the film can probably be attributed to too much zeal and an over-eagerness to please.  He shows some talent here…in the future, he just needs to show some restraint.

Video ****

This is an outstanding anamorphic offering from Columbia Tri Star (pan & scan version also included) that presents a terrific transfer of some difficult source material.  Most of the movie takes place in dark settings, yet the darkness is never fuzzy or grainy, and always with integrity and detail.  Dan Lausten’s cinematography is definitely a major attraction here, and his careful light and shadow play renders beautifully on this DVD from start to finish.  There are at least a hundred ways where this presentation could have gone terrible wrong, but it never did.  Simply superb.

Audio ****

Likewise, the 5.1 audio is an unbeatable effort, with a soundtrack ranging from the explosive to the eerily subtle.  The subwoofer pulsates constantly, and the dynamic range is almost overwhelming in certain sequences.  Both front and rear stages are wide open and make good use of atmospheric sounds to keep you off guard…you may find yourself peeking over your shoulder more than once.  This is how an in-your-face horror movie SHOULD sound, and this disc offers up one of the best audio presentations so far this year.

Features ***1/2

No complaints in the extras department, as Columbia Tri Star labeled this DVD a Special Edition for good reason.  Two commentary tracks supplement the viewing, including one by director Liebesman (a fairly interesting listen for those interested in how a first time feature maker goes about his business), and one by the writers.  There are two featurettes, a standard making-of piece and a faux documentary on the legend of Matilda Dixon, which isn’t badly done.  Rounding out are seven deleted scenes and storyboard comparisons.

Summary:

Fantastic disc, so-so movie.  Though the video and audio on the Darkness Falls DVD are certainly reference quality, the film content doesn’t offer much we haven’t seen before.  Consider this one a terrific demo disc for your home theatre and not much more.