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Darkness Falls (2003)
Director: Jonathan Liebesman

review by Octavio Ramos Jr

Darkness Falls begins as an interesting combination of atmospheric horror and phobia-driven terror, but the film quickly succumbs to the more mainstream elements of an action thriller. The story's setup is intriguing and filled with possibilities: In the town of Darkness Falls there lives an old woman by the name of Matilda Dixon, a widow who spends her days cooking treats for the town's children. She also has earned the nickname 'Tooth Fairy' because the children can exchange their last tooth for a gold coin.
   But fate is unkind to Matilda. One night while cooking goodies for the children, her home catches fire, leaving her so badly burned that she must shun the light and wear a porcelain mask to hide her hideous visage. As a result, Dixon only comes out at night, taking long walks under the moonlight and paying visits to the houses of young children. She continues to collect teeth and leave behind coins, but she no longer interacts with the kids.
   Unfortunately, the townsfolk grow wary of this strange Tooth Fairy and things get out of hand one night when two boys go missing. The more volatile villagers assume Dixon is somehow responsible. A mob then exacts vigilante justice by hanging her from the most convenient of trees. As Dixon dies, she curses the town, saying, "what I took before in kindness I shall take forever in revenge." The following morning, the two boys are found, unharmed. With Dixon's burial, the town also inters the entire incident. But the curse lives on: whenever a child living in Darkness Falls sees the spectre of the Tooth Fairy, he or she is killed immediately.
   At this point, viewers will be drawn into the atmospheric tale, and the sequences that follow, in which a young boy named Kyle Walsh sees the Tooth Fairy and manages to escape her deadly clutches by "bathing in the light," also prove very effective. But things begin to break down when the boy, now grown (and played effectively by Chaney Kley), lives in Las Vegas, a gym bag filled with flashlights always by his side. Kyle is called back to Darkness Falls, however, when his childhood sweetheart, Caitlin (Emma Caulfield) asks for his help in saving her younger brother, who as it turns out has also seen and survived an encounter with the Tooth Fairy. What follows is a Terminator-like structure in which Kyle (heh-heh, just like the other guy), Caitlin, and her little brother run from the Tooth Fairy, who seems able to dispatch everyone except for her intended targets.
   The problems with this film far outweigh its merits, but I still found the entire experience somewhat entertaining. I really enjoyed the opening sequences, particularly the prologue, but I also felt cheated because of the sudden change to a more streamlined thriller format. The fact that the Tooth Fairy ghost attacks a police station is laughable, particularly as she flies about as deputies fire off ineffective volley after volley of hot lead.
   The real letdown of the movie is the ending. The Tooth Fairy can be easily destroyed - enough light and she explodes. And indeed this finally happens, but the director, to prolong the inevitable, resorts to all sorts of parlour tricks, from the obligatory "it's not working" (be it a flashlight or a massive lighthouse strobe) to a surprise reprise that requires some last minute wrangling. Because light obviously will destroy the Tooth Fairy, then why didn't Kyle get himself a few high-intensity strobes and then sit back and wait for her as soon as he was old enough to understand the technology? Hell, I would rather face off with her that live a life filled with terror and doom.
   Another flaw is the film's failure to address Kyle's fear and depression. Although there are hints of this (he pops anti-psychotic pills and has spent time in a mental institution), he does have a score to settle with the ghost, who after all killed his mother and ruined his childhood. Instead of exploring why Kyle is afraid to confront the deadly ghost - and exact vengeance on his tormentor like a dog cornered - the screenwriter and director fill the screen with eye candy and chase sequences.
   Darkness Falls may please horror fans interested in a low-key horror film with moments of suspense, effective special effects, and lots of action, but hardcore fans (either gorehounds or those into atmospheric creepies) will tune out soon after the prologue. Worth mentioning, however, is Emma Caulfield's performance, which is effective and refreshing. It was nice to see a female protagonist with steely nerves who also manages to keep her clothes on and not rely exclusively on her physical attributes. Bravo to Ms Caulfield!
   The special edition of Darkness Falls can be viewed either widescreen of full-screen (without having to turn the disc over) and comes with the following special features: filmmaker commentaries, a featurette on the Legend of Matilda Dixon (which provides details not addressed in the movie), deleted scenes, a Making Of Darkness Falls featurette, and storyboards.
Darkness Falls

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