Case Number 02789

DARKNESS FALLS

Sony // 2002 // 85 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // April 14th, 2003

The Charge

An eye for an eye.
A tooth for your life.

Opening Statement

An oft-delayed release, Darkness Falls finally hit theaters in the winter of 2002 (and let's be honest, it had a cool tag line: "Evil Rises. Darkness Falls."). A modest hit with audiences, Darkness Falls featured a kid-friendly PG-13 rating and a monster created by legendary effects man Stan Winston (Predator, Jurassic Park). Unfortunately, the film was also plagued with production problems (the creature effects were inexplicably changed at the last minute) and the critics' reception was less than friendly (at Rotten Tomatoes the film scored a measly 7% acceptance rating). Descending onto DVD in a rather quick fashion, Darkness Falls casts its spell care of Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment.

Facts of the Case

In a prologue that sums up the film's history in one sweeping breath, we learn that a hundred years ago a woman named Matilda Dixon lived in Darkness Falls. The old woman loved children and would exchange their fallen baby teeth for gold coins, earning her than witty title of the "tooth fairy." But fate screwed Matilda like a cheap whore when she was caught in a fire and was burned so badly that to go into the light meant excruciating pain. When two children went missing, the town blamed Matilda (though no evidence is given as to why) and they decided that the best way to deal with her was hang her in the town square. After Matilda's death (upon which she swore that "what I took before in kindness, I will take forever in revenge"), the children were found safe and sound, and the town buried their shameful secret forever.

Flash forward many decades later and we meet up with Kyle (Chaney Klay), who saw his mother killed by Matilda when he was just a child. Because he looked into Matilda's face after losing his last tooth (which is a big no-no, since that means she's gonna kill you), Kyle's been marked by the stealthy female phantom who can only be destroyed by the light. After moving to Las Vegas and living most of his life in the blaring light, Kyle returns to Darkness Falls to help out his old childhood crush Caitlin (Emma Caulfield, TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and her little brother Mike (Lee Cormie), who's been having trouble sleeping. Take a wild guess why Mike's been having trouble getting to sleep? Yup, you guessed it: the Tooth Fairy is after him! Now it's a race against time to stay in the light before darkness falls...and Matilda comes out to kill!

The Evidence

So here's the deal: I liked Darkness Falls. I thought it was enjoyable cinematic filler, a horror movie that was light on scares but heavy on crisply burned elderly women. The reason I enjoyed the film was because I'd heard so many god-awful things about it through friends and the critics. Hardly a soul had anything good to say about it, and those who did have something remotely positive smothered it in sentiments like "though 'Darkness Falls' features a few light scares, overall it blows monkey chunks..." With my expectations at the bare minimum, I was happy to find this quasi horror flick -- it's PG-13, so it's not a full blown horror effort -- to be innocuous, fluffy entertainment.

Yes, the film has more inconsistencies and plot holes than most horror movies combined. I'd go over them all (here's just a sample: if Matilda is only after the kids, why is she killing all the adults?), but then it would take up the entire review and paint the film as an incompetent mess (which it is, but that's part of the fun). There's even a scene where a cat jumps out of nowhere, just for the hell of it -- hey, at least the film knows its sources.

The cast is full of bland faces that meld together like a minor episode of Beverly Hills 90210 -- the men sport square jaws and thick stubble while the women look sexy no matter what dangers they're facing. The two main characters -- played with little excitement by Emma Caulfield and Chaney Klay -- have the personalities of kumquats. Caulfield gets the Best Robin Wright Penn Look-a-Like Award for being the spitting image Sean's main squeeze. Because everyone and their mother ran out and saw The Sixth Sense, now every horror movie sports a sickeningly adorable tyke who whispers his lines with more fear than Kate Moss locked inside a chocolate factory. But hey, you didn't come to Darkness Falls for riveting performances -- you wanted to see a floating apparition knocking people down one by one.

The main draw for a film of this nature is the monster, and this is where the film lets us down. The biggest disappointment is that Darkness Falls doesn't feature enough scenes with the Tooth Fairy (who, in all honestly, looks like the female version of Freddy Krueger). The camera work is often too jerky to understand what's going on, and the editing is typical MTV style flash cuts that make one think they're on a rollercoaster for an hour and a half. At the end Matilda is unmasked, but it's only momentarily and far too brief. Since I never get the chance to see a 150 year old scarred woman in real life (not counting Carol Channing), this film was my only chance -- and it blew it! I guess I could go on and on about the film's mistakes, but why bother? Flaws abound, but at less than an hour and a half running time, who cares? People get killed, a car crashes, a few explosions happen, then it's all done.

First there was Leprechaun, then Funny Man, and now the Tooth Fairy in Darkness Falls. I'm waiting for a film featuring the Easter Bunny raping and pillaging an orphanage, and then I think we can seal the lid on this fairy tale sub-genre of horror movies. As for Darkness Falls, there are horror movies out there that are a lot better, and ones that are a whole lot worse. Viva la mediocrity!

And don't forget to stay in the light!

Darkness Falls is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with an anamorphic enhancement, as well as a 1.33:1 full frame version that truly sucks. Obviously, go with the widescreen presentation, which features solid colors, dark black levels, and even flesh tones. The bulk of this transfer is free of any defects such as grain and edge enhancement, making this a very attractive looking transfer, unlike Matilda Dixon, who would only be considered attractive by a decaying Walter Matthau. The full frame version should be burned at the stake.

The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in both English and French. This is a very, very nice mix; this track by Columbia features a multitude of surround sounds and aggressive directional effects that should work wonders on any home theater system. Lots of grumbling and eerie noises light up this track, making it a lot of fun for the ears. The track is also clear of any excessive hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are subtitles in English and French.

Good old Columbia, always throwing a bone to movies that don't deserve one single femur. Darkness Falls is presented in a new "special edition," sporting a few supplements that you can watch in exchange for a single molar. Ha! Just kidding! Here's a run down of what's on this disc:

Two Commentary Tracks: The first track is by director Jonathan Liebesman, producers William Sherak and Jason Shuman, and screenwriter James Vanderbilt, and the second is by screenwriters John Fasano and Joe Harris (it apparently took three people to write dialogue like "I see you, bitch!"). Both of these tracks are exactly what you'd expect -- full of production history and low on enjoyment. Fans of the film will certainly enjoy both commentaries, as they're filled with various cast, crew, story and production information. Otherwise, these are middle-of-the-road tracks.

Two Featurettes: The first featurette is a general "Making Of" piece that sports interviews with the director, producers, and writers, as well as some of the cast. Everyone involved seems overly enthusiastic, and even compare the film to such horror classics as Jaws. Apparently someone needs a lashing with a wet noodle. The second featurette is titled "The Legend of Matilda Dixon" and is a ten-minute history on the fictional character's life and death. Sporting archival footage and "interviews" with the locals of Port Fairy, all in all this is a pretty cheesy piece and a back story that I wasn't particularly interested in.

Seven Deleted Scenes: Each of these scenes are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. None of these scenes and extensions would have added anything weighty to the final cut of the film. Most of them include minor exposition that's fairly standard and boring.

Three Storyboard to Screen Comparisons: Each of these storyboard to screen comparisons feature the hand drawn storyboards in one corner of the screen and the final filmed scene in another.

Surprisingly, there aren't any theatrical trailers to be found on this disc.

Closing Statement

If you go into Darkness Falls expecting absolute crap, you might come out the other end surprisingly happy. Darkness Falls won't win any awards in the horror field, but it's better than I'd hoped and I think that counts for something. Columbia's presentation on this disc is excellent, especially the rollicking Dolby Digital 5.1 mix.

The Verdict

If you were excited to see Darkness Falls upon its theatrical release, I'm sure you'll consider this guilty on all charges. If you had low expectations, then it'll be free to go. The court stands adjourned.

Review content copyright © 2003 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 95
Audio: 99
Extras: 84
Acting: 72
Story: 74
Judgment: 76

Perp Profile
Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)

Subtitles:
* English
* French

Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks
* Two Commentary Tracks
* Two Featurettes
* Three Storyboard to Screen Comparisons
* Seven Deleted Scenes

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0282209/combined

* Official Site
http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/darknessfalls