Make no mistake, `Darkness' falls flat

Movie Review

January 24, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

SUN SCORE

*

A horror movie, set in a town called Darkness Falls, where the evil is the tooth fairy. This does not sound like a great setup.

Guess what? It isn't. Played for laughs, maybe, but Darkness Falls is meant to be anything but a yuckfest. First-time director Jonathan Liebesman sees it as one of those movies that preys on childhood fears to produce a full-tilt panic attack in its audience. So we get lots of darkness, lots of corners things can jump out of, lots of plaintive sobbing, lots of macho posturing by guys who refuse to believe evil exists until it's way too late, and lots of non-featured actors who serve as nothing more than monster chow.

What we don't get are any brains, any sense of anything new or any coherent plan beyond staging everything in the dark and having lots of things jump into the frame from outside of the frame. Excuse me while I stifle a yawn.

As is explained in a too-long opening narration (by an actor whose voice sounds like your favorite uncle trying to scare his 10-year-old grandson), Matilda Dixon was a kindly old lady who long ago handed out money to the children of Darkness Falls whenever they lost a tooth. But then she got caught in a house fire, had her face burned so badly she was forced to wear a mask and could never go out in the sunlight, and became the town pariah. When a couple of kids disappeared one day, the town instantly blamed Matilda and hanged her; when the kids turned up quite well and happy, the shame turned into a conspiratorial silence that sought to expunge the memory of Matilda from the town's collective conscience. But her last words, a pledge to enact her revenge on the very children she once so lovingly attended, resonated.

So here's what happens: In Darkness Falls, you lose a baby tooth, see the tooth fairy and die. Simple as that. Unless you're Kyle Walsh (a stone-faced Chaney Kley), who somehow survived Matilda's horrific onslaught and discovered the key is to always remain in light. He's since moved to Las Vegas (all the neon helps keep him in the land of the living, one supposes), where he spends most of his time ensuring the batteries in his flashlights are fresh. Still, when his old flame from grade school, Caitlin (Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Emma Caulfield, her face locked in a perpetual frown), calls to say her brother is unnaturally afraid of the dark, Kyle comes running.

Bad move, and you can probably guess why - old Matilda's just itching to get her bony fingers on Kyle.

Darkness Falls' plot is one of those convoluted things that hinges on people not bothering to flick on their overhead lights; if they did, Matilda wouldn't stand a chance. It's also got this amazing elevator that works even though all the electricity in the building has been shut off (there is a certain amount of fun to be had, counting all the holes and implausibilities in the plot). And then there's the Darkness Falls police force. A bigger bunch of buffoons you wouldn't want to meet.

Oh, this is all so terribly not good. Admittedly, the Matilda-as-demon creature is pretty frightening (thanks to the imagination of designer Stan Winston), but there the appeal of this movie ends. Fortunately, the real tooth fairy's benevolent reputation should remain safe, even in light of this slanderous attack.

Darkness Falls

Starring Chaney Kley, Emma Caulfield

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman

Released by Columbia Pictures

Rated PG-13(Terror and horror images, brief language

Time 85 minutes

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