Darkness Falls

The pitch - tooth fairy meets Freddy Krueger. The result - an outright shambolic waste of time and effort.

Released in 2003, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 10 May 2003 by Scott Morris
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There is no shortage of oddly named little towns in America to set slasher movies in, with this poor excuse for a movie being set in a backwater called Darkness Falls. A prologue tells of a woman scarred by a house fire, forced to wear a porcelain mask when outside to protect her now very delicate skin. Life continues until two kids go missing, so she is promptly lynch mobbed and killed. With her dying breath she curses the town, which is truly the most horrendous thing to happen in the world so far, as it ends up giving us this movie.

Before her scarring she served as a local tooth fairy of sorts, kids would receive a gold coin from her if they brought their last milk tooth to her. Frankly, this is odd behaviour and I applaud the mob's decision to hang her from the nearest tree. Now she becomes a scary story, a fiend who kills all who have the temerity to look on her as she bothers kids who have just lost that final tooth.

One kid who survived this attack by running into a brightly lit room, which somehow still harms the wraith for no particular reason is Kyle, a character so nondescript I had to look up his name despite being out of the cinema less than an hour before writing this. His mother is not so lucky, being killed. Kyle is suspected of killing her and locked up in a loony bin for nine years, then released back into the wild with enough prescription anti-psychotics to kill a small horse. He retains a healthy fear of the dark, with good reason - ghosts have long memories, apparently, and she is still gunning for him.

As he's safe when in the light, he carries round dozens of torches in a bag, although he loses them on such a frequent basis he may as well not bother. His life is interrupted by a call from old flame Caitlin (Emma Caulfield, some not-Buffy bird off Buffy, I'm told), whose brother is having the exact same 'delusions' that Kyle suffered from as a kid. At her behest, he returns to Darkness Falls to try to talk some sense into the bland little brat (Lee Cormie). As the nasty ghostie is following him around, this perhaps isn't the greatest idea in the world.

He isn't exactly given a warm reception, but the oafish goon who picks a fight with Kyle in a bar is quickly given his comeuppance when the wraith, who for no adequately explained reason mutters and whispers and moans away like a Gremlin guest starring on a Nine Inch Nails record, grabs him and gives him a once over. Off camera, of course.

This is a problem. It's been marketed as a standard teen fodder slasher picture, hinting at all kinds of bizarre and wonderful deaths. Final Destination and its sequel may not have been high art, but at least the deaths were contrived enough and gratuitously violent enough to be entertaining. This film has neither, it's just a seemingly endless parade of people wandering into darkness when lights fail and whatnot to be dragged away by a poorly defined shade.

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Still, films like The Ring prove that the claret doesn't have to be splattered copiously to make an unsettling movie through good ideas, direction and shocking twists. This is another problem, as the director has seemingly looked up 'scary' in a dictionary and found the definition 'loud noise'. As such it may provide a few jumpy moments but never because of anything on the screen, never because of a shocking visual or event. After years of evolution in the hunter / hunted field, we're all preconditioned to react to any sudden loud noise after periods of quiet, as it signals a change in the immediate environment that demands attention lest it turn out to be a stampeding pack of wildebeest that you ought to get out the way of. It's natural you may react to some of these orchestral stabs, but for the most part it's possible to predict to the very second the appearance of the wraith stealing someone away for some off-camera mutilation.

Kyle and Caitlin do their best to ward off this menace from young Michael, while enlisting the help of various members of the police force and hospital staff who aren't around long enough to get a name, let alone depth of character. Their deaths are met with mild indifference at best. This mess of a plot ends in a lighthouse after a handy power cut plunges the town into darkness, with our plucky and desperately uninspiring heroes winning the day with a Street Fighter style flaming dragon punch and the powerful beam of the lighthouse.

In term of character design of the ghost, the perpetrators of this nonsense have clearly studied the classics (in the loose term of the word). As it flies around with a porcelain mask on it looks like Jason, or perhaps the Phantom Of The Opera (don't be fooled, Andrew Lloyd Webber productions are most definitely horrors). After being shorn of it's covering, she looks like Freddy from Elm Street. This film has not an iota of the quality of those series, which was somewhat lacking to begin with.

When the only positive thing that can be said about the film is "it's quite short", it's perhaps best to cut your losses and run. This little waste of perfectly good time and money does nothing well, in fact nothing even close to adequate. It's an awful script, an awful acting performance from a cast which may have some talent but could not possibly show it in this vacuum, and particularly awful direction. Liebesman occasionally lapses into music video stylistics for no reason whatsoever, to the detriment of an already detrimented effort.

We could sit and pick plot holes and bits of outright stupidity until all the cows in the world come home, but the critical question that has to be asked in horror film is simply "Is it scary?". The answer here is "Hell, no". Suspense should not be mistaken for a sub-woofer, creepiness should not be mistaken for crashing noises. This film could easily be replaced by a man standing behind you crashing cymbals at random intervals and even then be far more tense and scary. If at any point in this film you are on the edge of your seat, it's almost certainly going to be because you've fallen asleep.

By a very strange twist of fate, this manages not to be the worst film out at the moment. Those honours fall to the risible Dreamcatcher, but two films of this, um, pedigree in the space of two weeks is a one in a million possibility that has unfortunately come true.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 1/5 TippyMarks, and even that's a stunning display of mercy on it's tortured soul.

Jonathan Liebesman
Cast list:
Chaney Kley (Kyle Walsh)
Emma Caulfield (Caitlin 'Cat' Greene)
Lee Cormie (Michael Greene)
Grant Piro (Larry Fleishman)