[Screen It]

(2003) (Chaney Kley, Emma Caulfield) (PG-13)

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Horror: Residents of a small town try to avoid a vengeful spirit by staying out of the dark where she exists.
In the town of Darkness Falls, legend has it that the vengeful spirit of Matilda Dixon haunts the darkness. Once known as the tooth fairy to the local kids, she now supposedly arrives at night to claim any child's last baby tooth as well as anyone who's unfortunate enough to gaze upon her disfigured face. That happened to Kyle Walsh (CHANEY KLEY) who saw the spirit kill his mother some twelve years ago and he still fears the dark where the monster exists.

Now living in Las Vegas, Kyle gets a call from his childhood girlfriend, Caitlin Green (EMMA CAULFIELD), who's concerned about her younger, institutionalized brother, Michael (LEE CORMIE) who's similarly terrified of the dark. The doctors think that the boy suffered a psychotic break from lack of sleep, but Kyle knows better and returns home to help him.

Various locals, including Larry (GRANT PIRO), the attorney who's sweet on Caitlin, and Matt (SULLIVAN STAPLETON), a disbelieving cop, aren't pleased with his return. Yet, as the killings begin again and everyone tries to avoid any and all darkness, he may be their only hope to survive.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
When you really think about it, stories regarding what are otherwise deemed lovable childhood characters are kind of creepy. While Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny might bring goodies, they actually break into homes in the middle of the night with Santa somehow eerily squeezing down the chimney like something out of the "X-Files."

They have nothing, however, on the Tooth Fairy. She (or he if you accept the portrayal in "The Santa Clause 2") not only sneaks into your house, but also into your kid's bedroom. There, she reaches under their pillow to take their baby teeth that she pays for with coin. What's she doing with all of those teeth? How creepy is that?

Apparently enough to persuade director Jonathan Liebesman (making his feature film debut) to film the screenplay by John Fasano ("Megiddo: The Omega Code 2," "Universal Soldier: The Return"), James Vanderbilt (making his feature debut) and Joe Harris (ditto) about such a character that takes children's lives along with their lost teeth. The result is "Darkness Falls," a hokey if occasionally somewhat spooky flick that relies on the oldest genre gimmicks in the book.

Namely, that's having people stuck in the dark where all sorts of jump scenes are present to jolt and thus hopefully scare viewers. A handful of them are effective, but they're so plentiful, often predictable and usually accompanied by sudden, loud music to such a degree that they lose their figurative and literal punch.

If there's one thing you have to give the film, however, it's that it wastes no time getting to the meat of its offerings. After a lengthy and verbose narrative opening that tells us everything we need to know, it immediately drops us in the bedroom of the first intended victim. Yes, it's the standard "kid in the bedroom during the nighttime thunderstorm" scene and it plays out exactly as one would imagine. As in most horror flicks, it's also the precursor to the main plot that takes place some twelve years later.

After that, it's pretty much your run of the mill, run and hide horror story that borrows from most any haunted house flick, vampire story and vengeful ghost from the past plot that's occurred in films such as "The Ring" and "The Fog."

Those with little experience with or low tolerance levels for such suspense and subsequent mayhem may find the movie spooky or scary. The rest of us, however, have seen this sort of tale so many times before (notwithstanding the tooth fairy angle), that the offering blends in with countless similar efforts. Although the screenwriters occasionally get in a few funny lines of dialogue, there's very little other creativity or imagination at play.

The narrative intro also lets the proverbial cat out of the bag far too early. Thus, that robs the film of what little mystery it could have possessed regarding the strange occurrences and sightings of the spirit (as well as some of the "detective work" that made "The Ring" engaging).

There is, however, the usual amount of character stupidity and/or lack of overall or specific logic. Characters go into dark rooms alone despite warnings not to and aren't very smart in their use of light to ward off the attacking spirit (that's even more sensitive to light than your ordinary vampire). Of course, none of the lights seem to have any longevity to them (all the better to make things dark), so perhaps the argument is moot.

The biggest problem, though, is that we don't care about the characters. Without that, our active participation in the proceedings is severely limited. It doesn't help that the spirit is barely portrayed (beyond the opening exposition) or that her actions make little sense (even for a story like this). The effects work is okay but nothing special, although one scene - intentionally or not - will likely remind some viewers of the wicked witch from "The Wizard of Oz."

Chaney Kley ("Legally Blonde") and Emma Caulfield (TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") are about as bland and nondescript as you could get for characters appearing in such a film, while Lee Cormie (making his debut) appears as the child in danger. In the end, however, even that ploy isn't terribly successful, leaving the young performer to spout dialogue that doesn't befit his character. Various other no-name performers also show up, but none make any sort of lasting impression.

Why this effort didn't make a straight-to-video debut is beyond me, but I'd guess that the detour into theaters won't last long. With an above average number of jump scenes but only a few scant moments that are truly scary, "Darkness Falls" rates as just a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed January 21, 2003 / Posted January 24, 2003

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