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Darkness Falls (January 24/03)

Horror aficionados take note: Darkness Falls marks the return of the "it-was-just-a-cat" scare. It's been a few years, but the infamous cheap trick is back - though I have to believe that its use in this film was more for parody than anything else. The central character is pondering her next move while sitting in her car in a parking lot, when a cat suddenly falls onto her hood. Now, since there were clearly no trees around, where did the feline come from? If that sequence was done out of utter seriousness, the filmmakers really need to watch a couple of old-school '80s horror flicks. But presumably, that little bit was thrown on purpose- a way for them to say "we know this is a cheesy and derivative horror movie, so let's have fun."

The movie opens with a sequence remarkably similar to the beginning of last fall's They, and that sense of sameness between the two films exists throughout Darkness Falls. A young boy named Kyle has just lost his last baby tooth, and is preparing for bed when he receives a visit from an ominous apparition known as the Tooth Fairy. Legend has it, she used to be a woman that would hand out gold coins in exchange for teeth - but when a couple of kids went missing, the town burned her to death. The Tooth Fairy kills Kyle 's mother, but spares him (for reasons never quite explained). The movie cuts to 12 years later, and Kyle (Chaney Kley) has become a paranoid weirdo who surrounds himself with flashlights. He's since moved out of his hometown (coincidentally enough, also called Darkness Falls), but finds himself forced to return when a childhood friend named Caitlin (Emma Caulfield) asks for his help. It seems as though the Tooth Fairy has returned and is stalking Caitlin's little brother - and Caitlin knows that Kyle is the only one who can help her.

It's surprising that Darkness Falls winds up as entertaining as it does, because the first half hour or so is really lame. That section of the film is chock full of fake scares (such as the aforementioned cat-on-the-roof bit), which essentially negates the inclusion of some genuinely frightening images and concepts. Director Jonathan Liebesman is so preoccupied with getting audiences to jump out of their seats, that he temporarily abandons the semi-intriguing storyline in favor of cheap thrills. The super-quick editing doesn't help either, presumably in place to divert the viewer from the fact that there aren't any blood or guts on display (the film received a PG-13 rating in the States, if that tells you anything).

But somewhere around the halfway point, Darkness Falls actually becomes fairly involving. Once Liebesman exhausts his supply of "boo!" moments, he allows the film to become a genuinely creepy little horror movie - albeit with a ridiculously amped up climax. The character of the Tooth Fairy, once we finally learn the rules that govern her behavior, winds up becoming an interesting villain, though she seems to murder a little too indiscriminately (she wipes out an entire police station, just because Kyle happens to be in the vicinity). And the actors playing Kyle and Caitlin - though they're expectedly good looking - manage to turn these stock characters into compelling figures, to the point where we're not actively rooting for their demise.

Though Darkness Falls isn't anywhere close to as frightening as last year's The Ring or Signs, it's certainly a continued step in the right direction for the horror genre.

out of

© David Nusair