Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Darkness Falls

Of the childhood fantasy figures, the Tooth Fairy is inherently the creepiest. Sure, some kids are afraid of Santa Claus, and we should hope the Easter Bunny hasn't seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but the Tooth Fairy comes into your bedroom while you're sleeping and collects a body part.

And what does she want with our teeth anyway? Seriously, that's some Leatherface territory.

Darkness Falls (2003) has enough good ideas, including making the Tooth Fairy a vengeful, murderous wraith as its villain, that when the movie started, I was intrigued, but overall, it's a blown opportunity. After a promising opening, the movie fails to capitalize on the inherent fear built into its premise, becoming another tame, watered-down PG13 horror flick.

The movie opens with some back story about Matilda Dixon, a woman in the town of Darkness Falls who would pay the children when they brought her their teeth. A fire disfigures her face, making her sensitive to light, so she takes to wearing a porcelain mask. One day, two children go missing, and the townspeople, blaming Matilda, lynch her. Before she dies, Matilda swears revenge. Naturally, the two children turn up safe and sound the next day.

A legend soon develops in Darkness Falls. On the night children lose their last baby teeth, Matilda visits them in their bedroom to claim the tooth. But should anyone look upon her, she'll kill them.

As far as backstories go, this one ain't too shabby. It would have been cool to dramatize this instead of just having some unseen narrator tell it, but hey, what can you do?

The movie proper opens with young Kyle Walsh losing his last baby tooth and awaiting the Tooth Fairy. This is the best scene in the movie as Kyle hunkers down under the covers, listening for strange noise and spooking himself with every shadow on the wall. The movie does a solid job of making you feel like you're a little kid in his dark bedroom as things go bump in the night. If only the movie ended there.

Alas, the plot jumps ahead twelve years. Kyle, now played by Chaney Kley, is called back to Darkness Falls by Caitlin (Emma Caulfield) because her brother is now pathologically afraid of the dark and refusing to sleep in it. Kyle knows Matilda is responsible and that she is trying to kill the little boy, but of course, no one believes him, especially because they think Kyle killed his mother all those years ago.

It was a catastrophic mistake to have our main characters be adults. As a kid, Kyle is sympathetic, young and vulnerable. As an adult, he's just another burned out Hollywood hero who's become a pariah in his hometown. A child afraid of the dark and scared of the Tooth Fairy is understandable; an adult scared of those things is just weird.

Granted, Matilda is real in the movie (a better movie would have at least initially created some uncertainty), but this is a story just begging to be about kids and their fear of being isolated and not believed by adults. Adult Kyle and adult Caitlin lose that, so the story is just another town under siege by a supernatural villain.

The plot is stupid. Apparently, Darkness Falls the town has a history of unresolved child murders, but no one has ever noticed. Doctors apparently believe the best way for a child to overcome a fear of the dark, a fear so pervasive that he cuts himself, is to lock him in a sensory deprivation tank. Matilda lives in the shadows, I guess, and can snatch people when they're in the dark but only does so when it's convenient.

The direction, after that first scene, is poor. Whenever the Tooth Fairy attacks, the camera starts shaking all over the place, and the editing is so rapid, you can't even tell what's supposed to be happening. Too often, the Tooth Fairy looks like a poor special effect.

And who names a town Darkness Falls? Sure, people took to calling Crystal Lake "Camp Blood," but that was only after it developed a reputation for mass murder.

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