Darkness Falls (2003) Movie Review

This exchange of dialogue, and the following brief scene description, is all you need to know about the new Slasher film “Darkness Falls”:

Kyle Walsh, Our Hero: “Stay in the light!”

Dumb Guy About to be Killed: “Shut up, Walsh!”

Followed by death scene of Dumb Guy, edited in quick-cut fashion.

Repeat process.

You may think I’m being a bit simplistic about the plot of “Darkness Falls”, but you’d be wrong. Appearing and disappearing at a scant 75 minutes, “Falls” is better left in the junk heap of Good Ideas That Just Didn’t Work.

The film follows Kyle Walsh (Chaney Kley), who at age 10 saw his mother murdered by a shadowy spirit that moves in darkness and visits kids to collect their baby tooth, thus earning the nickname “The Toothfairy.” The Toothfairy, we learn, was in fact a real woman who, 150 years ago, was lynched by the good townspeople of Darkness Falls after she was accused of abducting 2 local kids. It seems the vengeful spirit had once been a kind lady who went around giving gold coins to kids who lost their baby tooth; that is, until a fire accidentally burned her face, forcing her to wear a white porcelain mask and go out only at night.

When she’s unjustly hung, the Toothfairy curses the town, and returns in her present incarnation as an evil spirit to collect teeth from the town’s kids. If a kid happens to see her porcelain face during her visit, the Toothfairy kills them. In the case of young Kyle, the Toothfairy failed to kill the boy, but continues to haunt him into adulthood. Now an adult, Kyle is still terribly afraid of the dark (he carries around a bag full of flashlights and pills), but has to face his fears when his childhood sweetheart Caitlin (Emma Caulfield) calls for help. It seems Caitlin’s little brother Michael (Lee Cormie) has lost his baby tooth, saw the Toothfairy’s face, and now the old hag is after him!

Owing mostly to its ridiculously low running time, “Darkness Falls” suffers badly from poorly realized characters and a narrative that is in dire need of rewrites. I will give director Jonathan Liebesman and his screenwriters the benefit of the doubt and say that this is probably not the movie they wanted to make, but what was demanded of them by a studio only interested in a fast-paced action/horror film. As a result, “Darkness Falls” fails on every level imaginable when it comes to characters. Even if you entertain the assumption that Slasher films are notorious for being weak on characterization, the mannequins that walk around “Darkness Falls” are still grossly thin by comparison.

“Darkness Falls” is also filled with enough gaping plot holes that would leave even the dumbest MTV geek mystified. The film supposedly advances 12 years after its opening prelude, but when we see the adult Kyle and Caitlin, it is very obvious they are more than 22 years old (since they were supposed to be 10 years old 12 years ago). This is such a ridiculous problem that I don’t even know why the movie informs us that only 12 years has passed. Why not make it 20? Or even 25? There is just no excuse for this boneheaded “decision.”

For that matter, why is it that no one believes young Kyle when he tells him a vengeful spirit came in the shadows and murdered his mom? (They think he did it.) Apparently the Toothfairy has been at this for 150 years and yet the cops and doctors think Kyle, and now Michael, are just suffering from night terrors and fears of the dark. What kind of citizens is this town made of? The dumbest, most intellectually challenged people on the face of the Earth? Also, if Kyle has not been seen in the town of Darkness Falls for 12 years, and he looks nothing like his 10-year old self, how is it that everybody, including a drunken redneck who eventually picks a fight with Kyle, instantly recognizes him as “that freak that killed his mother”?

If there is one thing that can save the film it’s an action-packed Third Act, which is really one big chase sequence starting with a police station massacre and ending up at a lighthouse. Taking up nearly 25 minutes of the film’s 75 minutes, the Third Act pits Kyle, Michael, Caitlin, and other soon-to-be-dead-meats against the no-longer-worried-about-exposure Toothfairy. Here, director Liebesman manages to stir up enough tension and suspense to convince me that the film’s lobotomy of a First and Second Act are not his fault. Featuring what amounts to “light tag”, where characters quickly move between slivers of light to ward off the looming Toothfairy, the Third Act is easily the only good part of the entire film.

Besides featuring the notion that flashlights, and lights of every variety in general, are notoriously unreliable and prone to just shut off at any given second for no particular reason, “Darkness Falls” is a good idea that turned out badly. It isn’t my contention that the film might have been better if another 30 minutes or so of character development (or, how about this, some sanity and common sense) had been re-added; I’m just saying it couldn’t have made the film any worst than it currently is. Right?

Jonathan Liebesman (director) / Joseph Harris, John Fasano, James Vanderbilt (screenplay)
CAST: Chaney Kley …. Kyle Walsh
Emma Caulfield …. Caitlin ‘Cat’ Greene
Lee Cormie …. Michael Greene
Grant Piro …. Larry Fleishman

Buy Darkness Falls on DVD