Ever see a horror film that was pretty much universally panned, but you enjoyed it anyway? Did it have a lot of obvious failings, ones that you could point out in your sleep, but still had that unquantifiable something that appealed to you? Did it scare you in spite of its flaws? Now, put yourself in my shoes, the guy that’s gotta give you his opinion on one o’ these flicks; I’ve got to try to find a way to be honest and objective about a film that is full of problems, but just as honest and objective about whether or not I personally enjoyed it. It’s tantamount to self-contradiction, and as a writer, it’s a challenge.
But what the hell; if it was easy, it wouldn’t be any fun, now would it?
Back in 2003 (a lot longer ago than it sounds), a little film called Darkness Falls hit the theaters, and once the critics got done with it, it quickly faded. It was pretty ruthlessly hammered for a number of reasons, the most damning of which were a shaky, swiss-cheese plot, one-dimensional, woodenly-acted characters, and ripping off other horror tropes to stitch together a quick buck.
The story begins with some background history on a woman that, while considered strange, was loved by the children in her community; she even gave them cakes or coins when they would bring her their lost teeth; you guessed it, the birth of the Tooth Fairy. Because of this closeness to the children and her perceived weirdness, when two kids go missing, she’s blamed, and unceremoniously lynched…but not before cursing the town forever, saying that “what she took before in kindness, she will take forever in revenge” (not exactly how we thought of the Tooth Fairy, eh?). Flash forward to a point many years down the road; in the community of Darkness Falls, young Kyle has just lost his last baby tooth…and that night, something visits his home, something he thought was a fairy tale…something he wasn’t meant to see…and his life is forever changed by the tragedy wrought from his misstep, leaving him to grow up in institutions and orphanages. Years after that, Kyle is called up out of the blue by an old friend, Caitlin, to help her younger brother Michael through some night terrors that she hopes Kyle can relate to…but answering that call opens Kyle’s world back to a darkened hell of merciless retribution…
OK…so…a lot of the critics were right. Other than the prologue scenes, the film feels rushed; there’s almost no time devoted to character development; for all that you know about Kyle and Caitlin or anyone else in the movie save the Tooth Fairy herself, the movie could be a short film. There’s lots of unanswered questions and plot holes that tend to glare at you from time to time; for example, where are Caitlin and Michael’s parents? Why does the Tooth Fairy occasionally take someone who hasn’t looked at her, but the rest of the time staunchly adheres to the rule that to see her face is to be killed? And why, if light harms her, do we often see the Tooth Fairy doing her thing in enough ambient light to make out fine detail? Finally, we do see a lot of elements that are quite similar to other horror films that were released around the same time, such as The Blair Witch Project, They, and Soul Survivors, among others. Topping it all off, the studio obviously pulled out all the stops (not to mention blood and gore) to ensure a more “family-friendly” PG-13 horror flick. All in all, there’s a ton of reasons for this movie to fail as miserably as all it’s detractors say that it does…
…but damn it, I like the movie; despite all of the above, I find myself enjoying this one more every time I watch it. I’ll tell you why, and in doing so I’ll try to address the points as I mentioned them. The greatest strength of the film is taking something we can all relate to, the Tooth Fairy, and formulating a plot around the childhood myth to create a horrific, tragic figure, something to be both pitied and feared. The screenplay is brilliant in its incorporation of the most innocent of our youthful imaginings, such as why she only comes in the night, and why you can’t peek.
The biggest failing I saw in the film was a missed opportunity to drag out the suspense as to whether or not the Tooth Fairy was real, or just a psychotic delusion of Kyle’s; on the other hand, I absolutely acknowledge that just might not have been the story the writer wanted to tell, and that’s their artistic prerogative. The reason I bring it up is that I feel that would have given the actors (all of whom I feel acquitted themselves nicely) and director more to work with, giving more time and depth to both the characters and the overall plotline of the film. As it was, once we get to the (fairly early) point where the Tooth Fairy reveals herself, from then on everything has to be pretty fast and frenetic to keep audience interest…and POW! Down to the bottom goes your character development. Still, there’s nothing wrong with a plot-driven film (hell, that’s what short films rely upon), and director Johnathan Liebesman does a marvelous job of maintaining the suspense and fear level throughout the film; he shows his chops with the prologue, both setting up a solid foundation for the tale and giving us imagery straight out of a Lovecraftian nightmare in the opening scenes. His pacing is tight and well-executed, and he moves from set piece to set piece with an ease and naturalness that a lot of other, more successful movies have lacked. Onward to the plot holes…yes, there were times I wondered why there was enough light to count the veins in the Tooth Fairy’s eyeball in some scenes and she took no notice, yet at other times it seemed that if a firefly farted twenty yards away she recoiled in agony…certainly some continuity issues there, no? As horror fans, we expect a film to obey the rules that it sets out for itself; however, if there was a creature that could only attack in pitch blackness, filmed realistically it would be a black screen…as you know, any photography requires light in order to record an image…and we’d have missed out on that awesome creation of the late master Stan Winston.
So yes, the film breaks its own laws, but for we the audience to enjoy the film, we have to kinda take that one on faith. The same applies to the Tooth Fairy taking a victim or two that we didn’t actually see look her in the face; there’s no way we can know if perhaps they glimpsed her in a quick, off-screen glance; again, some things we as Fellow Fans must take on faith. Speaking on the observation that the film “borrows” too heavily from it’s contemporaries…well, it most certainly does. But didn’t Mighty Joe Young borrow from King Kong? Of course it did. Tarantula borrowed from Them!…every giallo, every slasher, every found footage flick…they all borrow from one another. That’s what any genre of film does. The only time you’ll hear me gripe about similarity is if it’s a egregious rip-off, bordering on plagiarism; otherwise, I’m not surprised when different horror films have similar plot elements…it’s playing the odds. All I’ll say about the scrambling of what may have been one hell of a horror flick to make a PG-13 movie for a wider box office…well, this wouldn’t be the first fright film that a studio has shot in the foot for that reason.
The point of all of this rambling is that although I agree with a lot of what other critics say about this movie on a technical level, it somehow still works for me. It does lack significantly in the areas of making a deep, profound, and totally original horror flick, but to me, it’s still scary. I’ve heard a lot of other folks completely contradict that opinion, and…well, I can’t say that it wasn’t scary to them, but I challenge those same people to tell me what movie does actually scare them. If you want to sit there and say that the lack of character development or occasional bending of the “rules” of the film totally rob it of it’s deliciously done visuals and careful use of shadow and sound to weave some really terrifying moments, I’ll tell you that you either may be too jaded to give an objective review, or you’re stuffed absolutely clean full of wild blueberry muffins.
All right, friends, sorry to ramble on so long, and that this review has become more of a (really long-winded) editorial…this film has been slammed so much, I felt I needed to balance the scales a bit. That said, I again stress that the movie does have its problems, and I’m not saying its critics are entirely wrong; if you’re looking for a horror film with deep, emotional performances and a storyline that will have you lying awake at night pondering its intricacies, Darkness Falls is most certainly not it…
…but if you wanna watch a beautifully shot, tense, and creepy (albeit simple) scary movie, I think you could do a lot worse than this one.
It’s pretty scary to me, despite its shortcomings…but hey; what do I know?
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