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Darkness Falls

(2003) * Pg-13
85 min. Columbia. Director: Jonathan Liebesman. Cast: Chaney Kley, Emma Caulfield, Lee Cormie, Grant Piro, Sullivan Stapleton.

Something about the underdog, "B"-movie spirit of Darkness Falls made me want to like it. At the outset, a burst of smart production value leaning on practical and sound effects to create shadowy horror seemed to promise a fun ride. But it took only a minimum of convincing thereafter to face facts: this cheapie horror flick filmed in Australia with unknown actors substitutes a splash of craft for any creative ambition.

What little craft there is mostly comes courtesy of the brand-name Stan Winston Studios, credited with designing and creating the tatty-cloaked banshee at the center of the story. She's Matilda Dixon--aka The Tooth Fairy. Seems Old Lady Dixon used to peppily reward kids a gold coin for their last baby tooth, until the double-whammy of her hideous burning in a fire and subsequent wrongful hanging by the townspeople of Darkness Falls turned her to an afterlife of supernatural crime.

Her hundred-years-plus criminal revenge--wreaked upon the children of the town--results in the murder of the young Kyle Walsh's mother. Racked with survivor's guilt and chronic night terrors, the grown Kyle (bland Chaney Kley) returns home at the behest of the only person who could convince him to do so: childhood sweetheart Caitlin Greene (Emma Caulfield, a poor woman's Madeleine Stowe). Caitlin's kid brother Michael (Lee Cormie), you see, has lost his last baby tooth and begun having night terrors of his own.

On the bright side of the dark tale, some good child acting and restraint of visual effects contribute to some remarkably effective moments (the threat of a CAT-scan's black tunnel hits home). I'd also be remiss to deny that the script musters some spot-on laugh lines. But director Jonathan Liebesman obscures most of the action by quick-cutting too-tight frames and allowing the increased silliness and mounting clichés which drive the plot to the all-too-familiar climactic lie, "It's all over."

This release would make a lot more sense around Halloween time, but then this isn't a movie which runs on sense. Plot turn after plot turn is bafflingly illogical, beginning with Kyle's inexplicable decision--flying in the face of his nyctophobia--to go out at night, in Darkness Falls, leaving the prone Greenes at the hospital, to "have a drink," even though he can't actually have one, due to his anti-depressant medication. Right. This decision predictably creates utter mayhem out of which our heroes spend the next hour digging themselves. I know it's perverse to expect sense from a trashy horror flick, but I'd take anything. What we get is a screenplay which baits the hook, then doesn't take the boat to where the fish are. Inventive Lake is out of the question; we can't even get to Interesting Creek.

Instead, Darkness Falls plays as if the screenwriters (three of 'em) rented A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Pitch Black, and Jeepers Creepers, watched them back-to-back-to-back-to-back, and proceeded to spit out the parts they liked: a hideously scarred undead creature (a white, porcelain mask for good measure), mortal dangers which thrive in darkness, and flying evil which attacks backwoodsy cops in their own police station. Add the hoary child jeopardy angle, and voila! Darkness falls. I mean, Darkness Falls.

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